Lab Lingo

Here are definitions for some common terms you may encounter on a lab test report:

Pre-analytical sample activities. All steps taken between the ordering of your test and the arrival of the sample in a lab.

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Analytical sample activities. What happens to your sample in the lab.

Postanalytical activities. What happens after the testing is completed, including the reporting process.

Specimen control. A liquid sample that mimics a human body fluid and contains a known amount of an analyte such as glucose. It is tested on a laboratory instrument to ensure that testing will indeed produce the correct result.

Test precision. How statistically likely a test is to produce the same result if it is repeated using the same method and instruments. In other words, how repeatable is the test result?

Test accuracy. How close a test comes to showing the “true” result. For example, portable glucose meters must have an accuracy range of ±20% (as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) compared with a laboratory instrument testing the same sample.

Reference range. For a lab test, the range of results that is commonly seen in healthy people. The term “reference” has been used since “normal” fell out of favor. To obtain these numbers, a large group of clearly defined healthy people (usually young adults with no known health conditions) is tested, and their results are compiled and averaged. “Out-of-range” results should not necessarily cause alarm; often, they mean that further testing is warranted. A reference range may also be referred to as a reference interval or as reference values.