Test process: Start to finish

It’s time for your annual checkup. You’re feeling a little run-down, but who isn’t during this pandemic. Your doctor suggests a check of your blood chemistry, blood count, and a COVID-19 test.

Sounds good to you, although the thought of getting stuck with a needle isn’t pleasant. The COVID test is a snap, just a nasal or throat swab. Your doctor sends you down to the lab.

Phlebotomist prep

At the laboratory, your blood drawer or phlebotomist, an expert in finding your best vein, preps you. After locating a promising location in the crook of your elbow, the phlebotomist cleanses the area and applies a tourniquet to make a vein stand out. They’ve already chosen two different color-coded tubes to fill with your blood.

When the tubes are full, a pre-printed label with your name and additional pertinent information gets applied. Your COVID-19 test swab gets stuck in a unique container, and a similar label used.

Filling the tubes

One tube is for your blood chemistry analysis, and the other is for your blood count analysis. When the tubes are full, a pre-printed label with your name and additional pertinent information gets applied. Your COVID-19 test swab gets stuck in a unique container, and a similar label used.

Separate paths

Your blood and COVID swab travel different paths depending on what laboratory your doctor uses. The big national laboratories, such as Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp, will handle all the testing. A more massive medical center may have an onsite lab for the blood chemistry and blood count and send the COVID-19 swab to a specialty lab.

The label on your tubes indicate what tests to perform. This information goes into the LIMS or Laboratory Information Management System. Your clear serum goes through a chemistry analyzer, which reports your glucose, triglycerides, calcium, and cholesterol levels along with others depending on your doctor’s orders.

You have more than one type of white blood cell, and an imbalance may indicate disease.

Normal range?

Your whole blood goes to a hematology analyzer, which gives the total number of red blood cells and white blood cells and a white blood cell differential. You have more than one type of white blood cell, and an imbalance may indicate disease. The differential shows if every kind of white blood cell is within the normal range.

What about that swab?

Your COVID-19 swab goes through an RT-PCR, a reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction testing instrument that measures the amount of COVID-19 RNA.

All the analyzers and instruments feed their final analysis into the lab’s information management system. The system checks and correlates the findings, spitting out a final report. The report contains not only the levels of each test but the normal ranges for each test.

Note: The laboratory stores all the analysis information and your blood samples for an established period per national regulations.

Integrated systems communicate results faster

The laboratory delivers the report directly into your doctor’s or medical center’s system for you and your doctor to assess. The report highlights any out of typical range results clearly for the doctor and you.

The laboratory stores all the analysis information and your blood samples for an established period per national regulations. All blood or other types of samples follow this general flow, just the kind of analysis changes depending on the specimen and what your doctor orders.