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Special week a salute to lab professionals

This week hospitals and health care facilities throughout the country are celebrating Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, and Halifax Regional Hospital is no exception. The annual event recognizes lab professionals and pathologists who play a vital role in the health care of the community.

According to Lab Manager Ed Agricola, Halifax Regional’s lab performs some 122,000 procedures annually. 

“Nationally,” Agricola says, “clinical lab testing accounts for 7.1 billion results per year with clinical labs testing 10 patients per second in the United States and 250 patients per second worldwide.”

Reports from the American Clinical Laboratory Association indicate that because of lab testing, there has been a 75 percent drop in deaths due to cervical cancer by using the Pap test. Early detection of increases in the eGFR clinical lab test may help to prevent kidney failure due to kidney disease. Using the Glucose & HbA1c clinical lab tests for Diabetes glucose tests are the key to appropriate glucose levels which lowers eye disease risk by 78 percent, lowers nerve disease risk by 60 percent and adds more than five years of life.

Through clinical lab testing, doctors have been guided to prescribe drugs that can prevent heart attacks and stroke. Because of genetic testing the cure rate for childhood Leukemia exceeds 80 percent as compared to 4 percent in the 60s.

“The studies also report that lab tests consume only 1.6 percent of Medicare spending, but some 70 percent of health care decisions are based upon them,” Agricola says.

“The 50 dedicated employees working in the main lab at Halifax Regional Hospital  and the three patient draw centers affiliated with the health system,” Agricola said, “are often referred to as the unsung heroes of health care because most of them are behind the scenes and the patient does not see what they do. And some members of the community might be unaware that technologists in the lab are required to have a bachelor’s degree in medical technology and that the technicians have an associate’s degree while the phlebotomists are school trained at local community colleges. Education and training is critical as clinical lab tests change the course of disease by providing physicians objective information to help them diagnose medical conditions and decide how to treat them.” 

Lab personnel perform critical testing every day, 24 hours a day, not only for the hospital patient, but for physicians’ clinics and nursing homes in the three county Halifax Regional Health System service area. 

“This year’s theme is ‘Laboratory Professionals Get Results’,” Agricola said, “which is most appropriate considering the extensive amount of health data that is provided to the ordering clinical providers and patients daily.” 

The laboratory team includes phlebotomists, who draw the blood; technicians and technologists who perform the testing; pathologists, who interpret the results and the lab support staff who all work tirelessly each day making a difference in the lives of so many.  

“Often times, “Agricola said, “it is forgotten how each tube of blood is a chance to diagnose, treat and cure a patient.”

“Improving patient outcomes is always the goal of molecular diagnostics,” said Susan Dalton, microbiology lab supervisor, so five years ago Halifax Regional’s lab began the search for molecular technology that would be compatible with the facility and benefit our patients.”

 In October of 2009 the microbiology department began using the Cephid GeneXpert molecular instrumentation - a system offering 24/7 testing accuracy and which returns most test results in about an hour.

According to Dalton the current test menu is MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus) and Clostridium difficile toxin testing. Sexually transmitted disease testing will soon be performed at HRH using this molecular technology and there are plans to expand the test offerings as they become available.

“Tests that could take many hours to days to perform in the past are now available on the GeneXpert through on-demand molecular testing that is available to everyone with unprecedented speed,” Dalton said. 

The Halifax Regional Hospital lab also offers LabChoice. 

“LabChoice, our Direct Access Testing service,” said Business Health Operational Manager Monty Epps, “allows an individual to self order and pay for a test up front. This helps a person without insurance or with limited insurance have access to essential clinical tests. All they have to do is come to the hospital lab weekdays between 7:30 and 5 p.m. This community service began in 2003 and continues to grow.”

The group will celebrate the week with some special events ending with a lunch on Friday at which time the winner of the 2013 Betty Fogel Award will be announced. The prestigious award is named for a former lab manager and mentor to many HRH lab employees.  

“I believe what sets the Halifax Regional Hospital laboratory apart from any other is the staff,” Agricola said. “The knowledge here is amazing. And they treat each other like family.”