A Medical laboratory or Clinical laboratory is a laboratory where clinical pathology tests are carried out on clinical specimens to obtain information about the health of a patient to aid in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. Clinical Medical laboratories are an example of applied science, as opposed to research laboratories that focus on basic science, such as found in some academic institutions.
Medical laboratories vary in size and complexity and so offer a variety of testing services. More comprehensive services can be found in acute-care hospitals and medical centers, where 70% of clinical decisions are based on laboratory testing.Doctors offices and clinics, as well as skilled nursing and long-term care facilities, may have laboratories that provide more basic testing services. Commercial medical laboratories operate as independent businesses and provide testing that is otherwise not provided in other settings due to low test volume or complexity.
In hospitals and other patient-care settings, laboratory medicine is provided by the Department of Pathology, and generally divided into two sections, each of which will be subdivided into multiple specialty areas. The two sections are:
- Anatomic pathology: areas included here are histopathology, cytopathology, and electron microscopy.
- Clinical pathology, which typically includes the following areas:
- Clinical Microbiology: This encompasses several different sciences, including bacteriology, virology, parasitology, immunology, and mycology.
- Clinical Chemistry: This area typically includes automated analysis of blood specimens, including tests related to enzymology, toxicology and endocrinology.
- Hematology: This area includes automated and manual analysis of blood cells. It also often includes coagulation.
- Blood Bank involves the testing of blood specimens in order to provide blood transfusion and related services.
- Molecular diagnostics DNA testing may be done here, along with a subspecialty known as cytogenetics.
- Reproductive biology testing is available in some laboratories, including Semen analysis, Sperm bank and assisted reproductive technology.
Layouts of clinical laboratories in health institutions vary greatly from one facility to another. For instance, some health facilities have a single laboratory for the microbiology section, while others have a separate lab for each specialty area.