Medical professional with blood sample

A Step-by-Step Guide to Laboratory Testing

What is laboratory testing? Learn about the procedures, steps, risks, and requirements for performing laboratory tests.

Medical professional with blood sample

Laboratory tests are a common component of routine checkups for your health. They allow medical professionals to look for any changes in your health. In addition, they help physicians diagnose medical conditions, plan treatments, and monitor diseases. This standard procedure is also painless, requires little prep, and can help save lives. Mastering this skill will lead to a much better experience for healthcare practitioners and their patients.

As you can see, laboratory tests are a vital procedure used for various medical diagnoses. This essential skill can be exciting for new healthcare professionals, and it can be particularly beneficial for Medical Assistants to learn the proper method of administering lab tests.

This article provides an in-depth guide on the art and science of laboratory testing, one of the most important healthcare procedures for medical staff.

(Click here to see our full list of the most common Medical Assisting duties and responsibilities).

Laboratory Testing Definition

What are Laboratory Tests?

Lab testing is a procedure that involves testing a sample of urine, blood or other substance from a body. These tests allow medical professionals to establish a diagnosis, treatment plan, and more.

What is the Purpose of a Laboratory Test?

Essentially, lab tests are used by medical professionals to help diagnose, monitor, screen, or research a patient’s condition. To get this information, physicians will order tests for a sample of blood, urine, or other bodily substance.

How Long Does it Take to Perform a Laboratory Test?

Most lab tests can be performed in a matter of minutes. It normally only takes a few minutes to collect the specimens as well. In addition, many in-hospital results can be acquired within three to six hours. However, if the tests were performed at other non-hospital facilities, it may take several days to receive the results.

Who Can Administer a Laboratory Test?

Lab tests are often performed by a variety of different healthcare professionals, including pathologists, clinical laboratory technologists, and technicians, or other medical staff. Additionally, some Medical Assistants may also administer lab tests.

In many states, Medical Assistants can perform simple lab or screening tests in a medical office. The most common tests are urinalysis, blood cell count, hemoglobin, red blood cell percentage, and blood glucose levels. A Medical Assistant may also conduct a test for pregnancy or strep throat.

(Click here to learn how to become a Medical Assistant).

Training Requirements for Laboratory Testing

Lab testing requirements may vary and can depend on your location and profession. Generally, aspiring clinical laboratory technologists will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, technicians may only need an associate degree and/or a postsecondary certificate. It’s important to remember that some states require technologists and technicians to be licensed.

Some employers may prefer candidates with experience in healthcare. At Unitek College, we offer a Medical Assisting program that could give you a strong advantage when interviewing for lab technician positions. Our courses include topics like specimen collection, pharmacology, medication administration, diagnostic imaging, and more.

A lab assistant assembling test tubes

Laboratory Testing Procedure

With these steps, you can start to learn more about the process of administering lab tests and collecting specimens. Of course, just like any other skill, lab tests require time and practice to get them right. Try not to feel disheartened if you don’t get them right the first time, though, and don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Laboratory Test Preparation

While most tests don’t require much prep, there are some guidelines that must be followed. These include reviewing the appropriate test description, such as the indicated specimen type, the volume, the procedure, the collection materials, patient prep, and storage instructions.

It’s also essential that you properly prepare the patient. In some instances, it may be necessary for them to fast or diet before a test. Some medication restrictions may also be required for specific tests.

Laboratory Testing Steps

Here are some of the general guidelines you should follow when administering a lab test:

  1. Prepare the patient in advance (i.e., fasting, medication restrictions, etc.)
  2. Verify the patient’s identity. Some examples of acceptable identifiers include the patient’s name, date of birth, and hospital number.
  3. Acquire a sample from the patient. Treat all biological material as potentially hazardous and follow your facility’s guidelines.
  4. Process the specimen as required by your facility or employer.
  5. Store the specimen. Appropriate storage is critical to maintaining the integrity of the specimen and, therefore, the test results.

Recovery

After the procedure, the patient can usually resume their normal activities. There isn’t a recovery period for the majority of lab tests. If you are ever in doubt, consult the attending physician first.

Necessary Equipment for a Laboratory Test

Typically, the suggested supplies for laboratory tests include the following items:

  • Gloves
  • Apron
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Specimen container
  • Body material sample
  • Urine dipsticks for urinalysis
  • Microscope
  • Centrifuge
  • Incubator
  • Refrigerator or freezer

Potential Risks or Complications of Laboratory Testing

Lab tests are often safe and relatively painless for patients. Although there may be pain associated with blood draws, it should not be significant or cause any lasting damage.

The word tips in wooden letter blocks

Pro Tips for Mastering the Art of Laboratory Tests

Here are some pro laboratory testing tips that may assist you in the future.

  • You can avoid common problems with careful attention to detail. Follow the guidelines of each facility to the letter.
  • Check to be sure you aren’t using any expired containers.
  • You need to obtain a great enough quantity of the specimen to ensure the test can be performed (see the test’s requirements).
  • Tighten container lids to avoid leakage and contamination.
  • Keep the specimen at the recommended temperature in the test requirements.
  • For plasma preparation, remember to mix the specimen with an additive right after collection by inverting five to ten times.
  • When it comes to urine collection, you will need to get a clean-catch, midstream sample. In addition, remember to add the preservative—it will be specified in the test requirements—to the collection container before you ask for a sample.

Why Should Medical Assistants Learn How to Administer Laboratory Tests?

Even though many facilities employ lab technologists or technicians, it can be very beneficial for Medical Assistants to learn these skills as allowed per state law. This is because technicians may not always be available or accessible in smaller settings or even hospitals.

While lab tests aren’t a job requirement in every doctor’s office, it is a valuable skill that leads to greater opportunities. Therefore, it would be advantageous for MAs or aspiring Medical Assistants to pursue the proper training. Once they are prepared to perform certain lab tests, an MA would likely become more indispensable to their employer and enrich their career.

Start Your Career in Medical Assisting

The ability to administer lab tests is a great skill that aspiring Medical Assistants should consider learning for their careers. It’s also an essential medical practice for several diagnoses and other lifesaving procedures.

Think about it: Lab tests provide medical staff with critical information about a patient’s health. In order to determine the right diagnosis, they need to rely on accurate test results. This means that adequate patient prep, specimen collection, and specimen handling are absolutely essential to a healthcare ecosystem.

If you’re feeling inspired and want to pursue a career in medicine, Unitek College offers various healthcare programs, such as our Medical Assisting program.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and tuition assistance options. Take the first step toward a rewarding future in healthcare!