Public health lab training professionals expanding educational offerings for lab industry

It was inspired timing last week that brought together the nation’s public health laboratory training professionals in Orlando, Florida, just as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced its decision on Thursday to declare influenza A/H1N1 as the first influenza pandemic in 41 years.

This conference was organized by the National Laboratory Training Network (NLTN), in association with the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) and the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). Approximately 100 public laboratory professionals from across the United States were in attendance.

The first keynote speaker was May C. Chu, Ph.D., who works in the Directors Office of the World Health Organization and is involved in laboratory testing activities that include epidemic and pandemic alert and response. Chu discussed the Global Outbreak and Response Network that WHO established on a voluntary basis in 2000. It has 120 participating institutions. She described how improved collaboration among health authorities around the world is helping to accelerate the identification of outbreaks like SARS (in 2003) and influenza A/H1N1 (in 2009).

Keynote speaker on day two of the NLTN’s Fifth National Laboratory Training Conference was Judy Yost, MT (ASCP), Director, Division of Laboratory Services, Survey and Certification Group, for the Center for Medicaid and State Services at CMS. Yost described the evolution of the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act (CLIA) program since its implementation 20 years ago. She offered insights about how the CLIA program is likely to further evolve in future years in response to new technologies and new capabilities in laboratory testing.

Closing the NLTN’s conference as keynote speaker on day three was Dark Daily’s Editor, Robert L. Michel. He reviewed major changes in laboratory medicine and the lab testing marketplace over the past two decades. In predicting the shape and form of public health laboratories in 2020, Michel described how widespread use of a universal electronic medical record in the United States would provide public health officials with a real-time tool to track patient diagnosis and treatment. In turn, that would speed up the ability of public health labs to identify disease outbreaks in their earliest stages. Of course, ongoing advances in molecular science and nanotechnologies will give public health labs rapid and highly-sensitive laboratory tests that can only be imagined today.

Clinical laboratories in the United States have regular interaction with the public health laboratory sector. This comes in two forms. One is the requirement for clinical laboratories to report certain diseases that show up as they perform tests on patients. The second form of interaction comes from attending training programs conducted by professionals in public health. This training activity is substantial. In his closing remarks at the conference, Scott Becker, MS, Executive Director of APHL stated that, “During 2008, APHL conducted 230 courses which trained 50,000 people. APHL’s 22 teleconferences in 2008 were similarly well-attended, with 19,179 people participating.”

These figures demonstrate how the public health laboratory infrastructure in the United States continues to sharpen its capabilities and reach out to engage the clinical laboratory profession. It was also acknowledged by several speakers that the additional emergency funding providing to public health laboratories since the outbreak of A/H1N1 was discovered in late April provides substantially increased capacity and capability to test specimens expected as the flu season picks up later this fall.

Related Information:

National Laboratory Training Network

Association of Public Health Laboratories