Although many people have never met the scientists working in their doctor or hospital’s clinical lab, the work of these experts impacts nearly every aspect of patient care, and the growing antibiotic resistance crisis is no exception. Clinical laboratory experts contribute to the fight against antibiotic resistance in three essential ways.

1.Determining if antibiotic treatment is needed

Appropriate antibiotic use is a cornerstone of the medical community’s strategy to combat antibiotic resistance. This means prescribing antibiotics for patients with bacterial illnesses, but not viral illnesses, as well as selecting the right antibiotic for the type of bacteria present in the patient. Not only does this practice help patients get the treatment they need, but it limits the growth of resistant organisms that unnecessary antibiotic use triggers. The tests created and performed by clinical laboratory experts are the key to doctors making the right prescribing decision. These tests differentiate between bacterial and viral infections and, in the case of a bacterial infection, identify the bacterial species and its susceptibility to various antibiotics. 

2. Developing tests to detect and type bacteria faster

It can take several days to complete traditional culture-based infectious disease testing, a shortcoming that has driven inappropriate antibiotic use and prescription in the past. Fortunately, the ability of clinical laboratory experts to analyze microorganisms at a genetic and molecular level has advanced in recent years, enabling the creation of rapid pathogen tests — some of which can be performed right at the patient’s bedside. These new tests created and adapted by clinical laboratory experts allow doctors to get the information they need to start targeted treatment within a day or even an hour.

3. Selecting the best tests to use

Now that clinical laboratory experts have created a plethora of new infectious disease tests for physicians to choose from, the same scientists can make physicians’ jobs easier by providing expert insight on what the right test is for each patient case. Whenever healthcare institutions consider adopting a new rapid test, laboratory experts help determine whether the test will positively change antibiotic prescribing practices and whether the institution has the resources to support its implementation. By guiding effective use of these innovative tests, clinical laboratory experts maximize the tests’ benefit to patients and their power to preserve antibiotic efficacy.