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Healthwise: Specimen Labs

April 25, 2012

When you take a trip to your regular doctor, or a visit to the hospital, there is a chance that you may need some sort of lab work. Depending on the test, your specimen can go to either Anatomic or Clinical Pathology. Dr. Hunt MacMillan, the Medical Director of Laboratory Services and a Pathologist, breaks down the difference between the two.

"Clinical lab specimens are things such as blood and body fluids. The Anatomic specimens are going to be specimens which primarily will revolve on testing tissue," said MacMillan.

MacMillan also explains the life of an Anatomic specimen. Each specimen gets a unique accession number based on the patient's name and date of birth. This information will allow technicians to track your specimen throughout the journey in the lab. From here it goes into a place called the "Gross Laboratory."

"This is where the tissue, in it's fresh and fixed state, is examined by the Pathologist and the Physician's Assistant," said MacMillan.

A sample sits in a special preservation chemical, then moves to a processor that removes the water from the tissue and replaces the water with wax. Eight hours later, the wax will embed or harden forming a block that will be cut on a machine.

"A very thin slice of tissue that can be placed on a glass slide, stained with vital stains, creates a glass slide," said MacMillan.

The doctors can then look at this slide under a microscope. What the doctor sees on the screen often helps other physicians to come up with a diagnosis.

Although you may never meet some of the people on your health care team, folks in the lab are taking several steps to make sure you have the medical information you need to make decisions about your health.

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