When a patient comes in with an infection, one of the first things doctors want to know is whether the illness is bacterial or viral. This valuable information will help doctors decide whether an antibiotic will help and, if so, which one will be most effective. If they prescribe the wrong one, the infection could get worse instead of better. And if they prescribe an antibiotic needlessly, it can lead to antibiotic-resistant disease in the future.

To make sure they get it right, doctors rely on clinical laboratory professionals to help them choose the best tests.

Stewarding success

Fortunately, diagnostic testing for suspected infectious diseases has been revolutionized in recent years, helping doctors limit antibiotics to patients who really need them and prescribe the right antibiotic for the right length of time, an approach known as antimicrobial stewardship.

Thanks to technological advances like mass spectrometry, molecular diagnostics—DNA, RNA and genomic sequencing—and the downsizing of testing equipment, clinical laboratory tests that in the past may have taken several days to complete can now be done in a matter of hours or even minutes. Some of them also can be performed near the patient, at the point-of-care.

"Diagnostic testing for suspected infectious diseases has been revolutionized in recent years, helping doctors limit antibiotics to patients who really need them."

Front lines

Clinical laboratory professionals have been at the forefront of innovating infectious disease testing, sometimes even developing, validating and performing tests in individual labs when a commercial test does not exist or when available laboratory tools don’t meet changing patient needs.

Clinical laboratory professionals also have continued to study and confirm the best approaches to testing, considering factors like test speed, convenience, cost, accuracy and reliability to determine which ones optimally support patient care.

As infectious disease diagnostic tests keep evolving, clinical laboratory professionals are revolutionizing new testing methods being used in research settings—like pathogen whole genome sequencing—to make them ready for everyday patient care. These efforts and more aim to enhance patient outcomes and illustrate the contributions that clinical laboratory professionals are making on a regular basis to serve physicians and their patients.