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Everyone’s Guide to Medical Equipment – Part 7 – Laboratory Equipment

labequipmentIn articles 1 through 6 of this series we looked at the equipment that you could expect to find in your physician’s bag and office and the medical monitors that you’re most likely to encounter in clinics and hospitals. Some of them are simply measuring instruments, adapted to work safely in a clinical environment. Others are complex, often computer driven, pieces of electromechanical machinery.

Have you ever wondered what happens after you hand over those samples for analysis, or have blood drawn? Today we’ll look at the various kinds of equipment used in the medical laboratories that perform tests on those samples, generally resulting in a nod or a look of horror from your physician and later followed by a page full of measurements, advice and warnings in the mail.

Common tests
Physicians may order any of a wide variety of tests if they suspect a disorder, but almost all of them will want to see at least the following:

  • Blood tests – many of these are biochemical, but there are also molecular profiling and cellular evaluations.
  • Urine tests – these may deploy urinalysis or microscopic examination.
  • Fecal tests – these are generally looking for blood or excess fat, both of which generally signify underlying problems.

The physician generally orders the most common tests and then asks that others be performed if they need to help with reaching or confirming a diagnosis. After the samples are supplied they are carefully labeled and are generally sent to a medical laboratory for testing, sometimes within the facility, but most often at some other location. Today we’ll look at blood tests and the associated equipment. We’ll look at the others in the next article in this series.

Blood tests
” Since blood flows throughout the body, acting as a medium for providing oxygen and nutrients, and drawing waste products back to the excretory systems for disposal, the state of the bloodstream affects, or is affected by, many medical conditions. For these reasons, blood tests are the most commonly performed medical tests. Phlebotomists, laboratory technicians and nurses are those charged with patient blood extraction. However, in special circumstances, and emergency situations, paramedics and physicians sometimes extract blood.” – Wikipedia.

The range of standard biochemical blood tests (a basic metabolic panel) measures:

  • Bicarbonate: Helps to maintain the acididy/alkalinity balance within the body.
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN): Helps monitor the functioning of the kidneys.
  • Calcium: [Optional] Vital for building and fixing bones and teeth, helping nerves work, making muscles squeeze together, helping blood clot, and helping the heart to work.
  • Chloride: Works with potassium and sodium to control the flow of fluid in blood vessels and tissues and to regulate acidity in the body.
  • Creatinine: Used in conjunction with the BUN to gauge kidney function. Creatinine is a prime component of muscles.
  • Glucose: The primary source of energy for the body’s cells. Important in the diagnosis of diabetes.
  • Lithium: [Optional] Increases the production of white blood cells in the bone. It may also have a role in Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Magnesium: Helps maintain the levels of potassium in cells.
  • Potassium: An electrolyte that is important to both cellular and electrical functions within the body.
  • Sodium: Important to the correct functioning of nerves and muscles. It helps balance the proportions of water and electrolytes in the body.

Some blood tests, such as those that measure glucose, cholesterol, or involving sexually transmitted diseases, require fasting (other than clear fluids) eight to twelve hours prior to the drawing of the blood sample. There are also specialized tests for detecting illegal drug usage.

Molecular profiling uses advancements in bioinformatics, imaging, genomics and proteomics to build a molecular portrait of an individual patients’ disease, particularly forms of cancer. It uses many different testing techniques, including DNA testing and protein electrophoresis.

Cellular evaluation uses a variety of techniques to look at the ratios of red and white blood cells and the condition of the cells. Blood cultures can be grown if infection is suspected. Other cellular evaluation and measurement techniques include:

  • Cross-matching – the determination of blood type for blood transfusion or transplants.
  • Full blood count (or “complete blood count”) – determines the ratios of red cells, white cells and platelets in the blood.
  • Hematocrit (the proportion of the blood stream occupied by red blood cells) and mean corpuscular volume (MCV).
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) – an indicator of inflammation in the body.

Blood analysis equipment
The blood samples are transported to the laboratory and small amounts are drawn off for analysis by various machines, including:

  • Clinical chemical analyzers: These instruments handle a number of samples at a time and hold all of the necessary reagents for the biochemical testing. Results are sent to a computer for analysis, storage and distribution to the organization that ordered the tests.
  • Electrolyte analyzers: Completely automated, microprocessor controlled systems that measure various combinations of calcium, chloride, lithium, potassium, sodium and pH.
  • Blood gas analyzers: These measure pH, the amount of carbon dioxide gas dissolved in the blood – partial pressure of CO2 (PCO2), amount of dissolved oxygen (PO2) and as many as eleven additional parameters.
Blood Analysis Equipment
ccanalyzer electrolyteanalyzer bloodgas
Clinical Chemical Analyzer
Electrolyte Analyzer
Blood Gas Analyzer

What’s Next?
Tomorrow we’ll complete this look at medical laboratory equipment by looking at what happens with those other samples we provide.

Related Articles: Part 1 – Basics | Part 2 – Starter Kit A | Part 3 – Starter Kit B | Part 4 – Starter Kit C. | Part 5 – Medical Monitors | Part 6 – More Medical Monitors.

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2 comments to Everyone’s Guide to Medical Equipment – Part 7 – Laboratory Equipment

  • idaye leonard

    i work here in NIGERIA as a medical equipment service enginee,i’ve been following your series ‘everyone’s guide to medical equipmentand it has been worth while reading the materials,but i’m a bit confuse about the categories of medical equipment in series one.if i take it as written in the series one,where then do u place autoclavs,suction machines and operating lights?

  • I’d put autoclaves in the Laboratory Equipment section (#7) and the others under Basic Surgical Instruments (#13).

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