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What does a Pulmonary Laboratory Technician do?

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  • Written By: Swapna Goel
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 05 December 2016
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A pulmonary laboratory technician is primarily responsible for educating patients on specific methods of breathing, and conducting pulmonary function tests (PFT) to ascertain the level at which a patient's respiratory processes function. This data is used by physicians to diagnose and treat pulmonary disorders. Types of PFTs conducted may include spirometry, lung volumes by helium dilution, nitrogen washout, or plethysmograph.

Using the spirometer, the lab tech measures the rate of air flow in a patient's lungs, and performs lung-capacity tests, such as the vital capacity and maximum breathing capacity tests. With the help of diverse analyzers, the tech measures expired air, and marks the readings on analysis meters to convey to the physician. A pulmonary laboratory technician must recognize the urgency of a ‘stat’ test and give it top priority, working overtime, if necessary.

Working under general supervision, the pulmonary laboratory technician also does blood gas analyses to determine the oxygen saturation in blood, pH levels, and hemoglobin count. He or she achieves this with competent use of sophisticated equipment like the blood gas analyzer, reflectance oxymeter, micro hematocrit centrifuge, and radiometer. The lab tech often has to measure sweat chloride to test for cystic fibrosis, and may be asked to assist a physician in conducting special procedures, such as a bronchoscopy.

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Most pulmonary laboratory technicians are skilled to perform specialized pulmonary function tests on neonatal, intensive, and critical care patients with the help of augmented mechanical equipment called "hugger machines," which measure exhalation levels. This calls for an in-depth knowledge of cardiac arrhythmias and pulmonary physiology. Another common duty is the metabolic testing of patients on ventilators in order to measure gas exchanges. The tech is frequently called to perform a pulmonary function stress test, which includes EKG monitoring, ear oxymeter tests, lung mechanics, and gas exchange.

Beyond PFTs and other testing, the lab tech is usually also responsible for the proper functioning of all respiration equipment. He or she tests, calibrates, and maintains all machines to ensure correct readings, following standard procedures. The pulmonary laboratory technician must maintain daily lab reports and closely coordinate with the administrator, as well as the physicians in the pulmonary division, apprising them of all laboratory activities.

Most senior pulmonary laboratory technicians play an active role in the training of medical students, house staff, and junior laboratory technicians. Another important duty of the lab tech is to confer with the patient in the treatment room and explain in detail the nature of the test and procedures. He or she may also train the patient in the proper use of inhalers or other respiratory devices.

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