Laboratory tests enhance patient management and public health response to a health emergency, which may be due to a communicable disease, or a biological, chemical or trauma incident. Public and private pathology laboratories work closely with their associated hospitals and primary care providers in responding to a health emergency.
Laboratory results for notifiable conditions are reported by laboratories to public health authorities. These results may indicate the entry into NSW of an emerging communicable disease, the occurrence and extent of a known communicable disease, response to therapy and the level of exposure or immunity in the population. Toxicology tests may confirm a particular type of chemical exposure and haematological investigations may show the extent of exposure of individuals to a radiation source.
During the response to a health emergency, laboratories may experience increased demand on their services, and have plans in place for a surge response, including rapid specimen transport, testing and reporting of results.
NSW Health may work with laboratories and clinicians in an emergency situation to determine the priority for testing – who needs to be tested, for what and when do tests cease to be useful in managing the response? For example, in an influenza outbreak in a particular group of people, not all patients with an influenza-like illness would need to be tested as influenza would be the likely cause. Public health authorities can also help patients and clinicians interpret laboratory results for notifiable conditions.