It has been over two decades that I have been a part of the diagnostics industry and have experienced many facets of the sector. Having worked closely with the real people who make a diagnostic lab work, there are numerous stories to tell of their challenges and hard work, which we as recipients of diagnostic services would hardly be aware of.
While it is true that a doctor and patient relationship is fundamentally built on trust, which has a central role to play in the healing process, it is equally true that humble laboratory professionals — phlebotomists, technicians, technologists, scientists, pathologists and others in the diagnostics community — are the healing enablers. Although lab professionals do not actively engage with patients, they are fulfilling a very vital role in enabling healing and are important contributors to our health and wellbeing.
Working tirelessly in their restricted spaces, medical laboratorians accomplish some of the very complex work in the healthcare space, and deep dive into identifying the root cause of the possible ailments. As per a study, the work of laboratory professional amount to around 94% of objective medical data in a patient’s health record.
In matters of continuum of care, it is the accuracy of their investigation which result in correct diagnosis and treatment. Their contribution is not just limited to confirming a diagnosis or detecting a disease, but also in monitoring the efficacy of therapy and progress of a disease. They cover the entire spectrum between wellness care and sick-care, providing vital information to clinicians that enable them to take critical decisions.
These healing enablers are not confined to a few roles. The responsibility of the correct report is shared by a range of people, including phlebotomist, laboratory director, pathologists, laboratory scientists, technologists, technicians, and others. The laboratory professionals hold unique expertise on multiple domains, including lab equipment technologies, analytics and statistics, and last but not least, competent expertise in diverse fields of laboratory medicine like Clinical pathology, Chemical pathology, histopathology, Cytology, Microbiology, Immunology, Haematology, Genetics and Genomics.
The entire process, from the point of sample collection to creation of reports, needs much diligence from the healing enablers. The laboratory professionals (also called phlebotomists) are not only responsible to collect the specimen from our homes, but they are also responsible for transporting them correctly adhering to strict guidelines. Any deviation from the process makes the sample unfit for testing and are rejected by the lab. Thus, they are the guardians of the purity of the collected samples.
Within the lab, the laboratory professionals, simultaneously conduct various tests across disciplines, using various forms of traditional and new-age technologies. The tests samples are not just fed into some machines to reveal the outcomes. Instead, the professionals undertake a complex process of testing, correlation, and validation before the outcomes of test are confirmed as lab reports.
Over the past one year, the laboratory professionals in the diagnostics industry have borne the growing burden of testing, risking their own lives. In terms of fight against COVID, the lab professionals have sacrificed as much as any other hospital staff or doctor. Through their work, from sample collection, transportation and handling, and testing and disposing, these COVID warriors have been closest to the virus. They have worked hours in PPE kits, stayed away from their families, and worked under tremendous pressure with surging volumes.
It is unfortunate that just like doctors and hospital staff, many lab professionals have also faced social backlash during the early months of pandemic. It is equally unfortunate that sometimes professional courtesies are breached, and lab professionals are asked questions that they are not trained, qualified, or permitted to answer.
Despite these perceptions and challenges, lab professionals keep the trust intact and respect all stakeholders by playing their roles to the best of their capabilities. In the process of getting treated, they are the vital enablers who make healing possible.
Towards recognising these key stakeholders of the healing process, it is a welcome move from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, for passing the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professionals Bill, 2021, which recognizes medical laboratory professionals and brings them from the quarters of neglect to that of due focus and attention. The bill is a major step to recognize their skillsets and contribution as frontline health workers, and the system would increase employment opportunities and enhance their true worth within India and globally.
As we battle a bigger surge of COVID-19, I feel it is my honour to be working with these brave-hearts closely. Also, on the occasion of Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, it is only fitting that we attempt to understand the laboratory professionals better. Therefore, it was essential for to me to share the understanding and attempt to sensitise all of us of the critical role they play in our healing process and the respect and adulation they deserve. And I would like to appeal to everyone to join me in honouring and bestowing our love towards them.