Laboratories play an essential role in patient care: the right test on the right patient at the right time is crucial to diagnosing and monitoring a patient’s illness and preventing further health complications.

However, only about 10 to 15 percent of patient management decisions made in resource-limited countries are based on laboratory test results, as compared to 70 to 80 percent in other countries. The reasons for the low utilization of lab diagnostics vary and often include slow turn-around time, lack of confidence in the reliability of test results, and little or no communication between the lab and the clinic.

Improving this interface between laboratories and clinical care settings was the subject of a special satellite session sponsored by ICAP at the 1st International Conference of African Society for Laboratory Medicine on December 1, 2012 in Cape Town, South Africa. The session entitled, “The Laboratory-Clinic Interface: Where the Rubber Hits the Road” set out to assess the role of laboratory services in health care in the 21st century and identify key challenges affecting the laboratory-clinic interface, followed by a discussion about practices and opportunities for improvement.

Three distinguished leaders in laboratory and medical sciences spoke at the session, including Dr. Trevor Peter (CHAI), Dr. Ilesh Jani (Mozambique MOH), and Dr. John Nkengasong (CDC). ICAP’s Dr. Jessica Justman, Senior Technical Director, and Dr. Bereket Alemayehu, Associate Director of Laboratory Services at ICAP, moderated the event. Drawing from examples in their work, each speaker discussed laboratory services from a different perspective, and talked about the impact of new areas, such as point-of-care diagnostics and lab accreditation, on laboratory and clinical services.

“This session allowed us to review current challenges and best practices, and to discuss innovative approaches to improving the interface between laboratory and clinical services at a time when health system strengthening is increasingly important,” said Dr. Justman.

The satellite session was attended by 105 participants including laboratorians and clinicians working at health facilities, MOHs program managers, national laboratory program leaders, and representatives from academic institutions, industry, implementing partners, WHO, CDC, USAID, and other funding agencies. The audience came from 32 countries in Africa, Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and Australia.

“Strategies and systems that provide high quality care, informed by reliable laboratory test results, will not only help the individual. Public health systems will also benefit from more complete and higher quality lab data through informed health policies, appropriate health services, and relevant medical research,” added Dr. Alemayehu.

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