Spotlight On: Clinical Laboratories

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Children's View

Spotlight: on Clinical Laboratories To most patients, the clinical laboratories are a great mystery. Someone draws a child’s labs, perhaps by collecting blood or urine, and then minutes, hours or days later, the results come back, as if by magic. It all seems effortless and invisible — because a group of people working behind the scenes do their jobs very well.

The clinical laboratories at CHOP perform 2.1 million tests every year, or an average of 5,700 every single day, around the clock. About 60 percent of them are done by the Core Labs, which perform common tests like blood cell count and basic metabolic panels. There are also a dozen specialized labs, including microbiology, virology, genetics, anatomic pathology, the metabolic disease laboratory and the blood bank.

Just how do these lab specimens get from a child’s room to the labs? The answer may surprise you: through the walls!

With a “whoosh,” an elaborate system of pneumatic tubes delivers samples in sealed specimen bags to the fifth-floor labs from units all over the Main Building. Others arrive by courier from CHOP Care Network locations.

The samples get logged and sorted almost immediately. Tests labeled “stat” will be done in an hour or less, and all other routine tests within 90 minutes. (The average processing time is 35 to 40 minutes.) Others with greater complexity, such as genetic tests, may require several days or even weeks.

The labs themselves are quiet, focused places, with many medical technologists in coats and gloves hunched over petri dishes, microscopes or computers. Nearly 300 people work in the clinical labs, and their experience — they average 24 years working at CHOP — helps them achieve near-perfect accuracy.

They are rarely seen by patients, but their work is incredibly important: Seventy percent of diagnoses made at CHOP are based on lab results.

— Julie Sloane