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Outside the Lab Clinical care, Profession

Seeing the Patient Behind the Slide

The healthcare system in the US is increasingly moving toward value-based, personalized care. As laboratory scientists, our role in this shift is critical; we are the ones at the forefront of research to better understand the complex elements of diseases, how they develop, and how they can be treated.

As part of this growth, there has been a rise in the use of biobanks – the repositories that collect and store human biological materials to be used for research and discovery. Yes, there are still challenges surrounding biobanking – data security, patient privacy, and research consent, to name a few – but research suggests that the biobanking market will continue to grow rapidly over the next decade, particularly in North America, where chronic disease is prevalent and research opportunities and drug discovery are active.

That’s good news for laboratory scientists; biorepositories are key to expanding our research and improving patient care. And with the growth of biobanking, laboratory involvement will also grow. We are the interpreters of data, we set the baseline for quality, and we oversee and secure the foundation upon which healthcare is built.

The test results you are providing aren’t just words on a chart; they’re directives about how to handle a life.

Remember: the laboratory is the cornerstone of healthcare and, as we move toward personalized medicine, it is imperative that “personalized” is the word we keep in focus. Too often, as we go about our daily duties in the laboratory, we forget that the slide under the microscope or the sample in the analyzer isn’t simply a specimen. It’s a person. The test results you are providing aren’t just words on a chart; they’re directives about how to handle a life. When you make your diagnosis, you’re not making a conclusion about a piece of tissue, or a cluster of cells; it’s a conclusion about a human being. And what you diagnose ultimately affects not only the patient’s life, but the lives of the people around him or her. That “slide” has a mother, a father, a husband, a wife, three kids, a community of friends that extends well beyond the laboratory.

Laboratory scientists are not known for having a great deal of patient interaction. That could change as personalized medicine becomes more prevalent and multidisciplinary healthcare teams become more collaborative. And as biobanking plays an increasingly prominent role in research, and more scientists engage with these repositories to further scientific knowledge that will contribute to these teams, understanding the effect our discoveries have on humans – our family, our friends, our neighbors – will be integral to our success.

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About the Author

E. Blair Holladay

CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology

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