Clinical Pathology Overview

What is clinical pathology?

Picture of a male pathologist examining a container of liquid

Clinical pathology covers a wide range of laboratory functions and is concerned with the diagnosis, patient care, and prevention of disease. Clinical pathologists look at the body's biochemical processes, such as hormone and enzyme production. Clinical pathologists often direct all of the special divisions of the laboratory, which may include the blood bank, clinical chemistry, hematology, immunology and serology, and microbiology.

What does a clinical pathologist do?

A clinical pathologist looks at blood, urine, or other body fluid specimens under a microscope, or with other diagnostic tools, to observe levels of certain chemicals in the body. A diagnosis or determination to conduct further study is then made based on the test results. Specimens for examination can include any of the following:

Types of specimens used in clinical pathology:

Blood

Blood is used in many tests. Blood can either be examined as a "whole," as plasma (the fluid left when red and white blood cells are removed), or as serum (a clear fluid that separates from blood when it clots).

Blood is usually drawn with a needle from a vein, usually in the forearm (also called venipuncture). Sometimes, the tip of the finger is pricked and then squeezed to draw blood (called a finger stick).

Urine

Urine tests, too, are used for a wide range of tests. Urine specimens can be obtained by:

  • random method - patient urinates in a cup.

  • clean catch specimen - the outer genital area has been cleaned before urinating in a cup.

  • sterile urine test - requires catheterization (the insertion of a tube into the urethra to the bladder to obtain urine).

Sometimes, a physician will require the patient to do a timed test to measure substances excreted into the urine over several hours.

Sputum (also called phlegm)

Sputum can be coughed into a clean container.

Feces

Feces is usually collected by the patient in a clean cardboard or plastic container.

Other body fluids

Other body fluids collected for observation may include the following:

  • spinal fluid

  • pleural fluids - fluids around the lungs and/or in the pleural cavity.

  • abdominal fluids

  • joint fluids

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