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COVID-19: Advances in Care

In-House Testing Speeds Response to COVID-19

Faster Results Lead to Better Patient Care

In the early weeks of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, Northwestern Medicine Laboratory leaders made a point of wearing blue in the lab because it’s a calming color. As questions around testing dominated the headlines, their team diligently worked under a large television displaying a map of the world with real-time COVID-19 case counts by continent, country, state, county and city. Their mission: Develop a test for the virus.

In just 10 days and only four days after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, the Diagnostic Molecular Biology Laboratory at Northwestern Memorial Hospital began in-house testing for COVID-19. As a result, patients and their providers received a much quicker turnaround on results than they were getting from tests sent to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Achieving quicker results means more efficient care, but it also means quicker rule-out of COVID-19. That allowed Northwestern Medicine care teams to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) at a time when supplies were running low nationwide, ensuring adequate PPE would be available for treating their patients.

“In just one week, testing numbers went up significantly,” says Northwestern Medical Group Pathologist Lawrence J. Jennings, MD, PhD. Lab staff kept up with demand by bringing in more equipment and adding two shifts.

Following the initial launch, lab teams across Northwestern Medicine have helped expand testing capabilities. The effort required extensive training, knowledge and validation efforts to ensure accurate and timely results, according to Julie Rufus, director of Clinical Laboratories at Northwestern Medicine.

“Usually lab is behind the scenes, but it is integral in the care of patients,” Rufus says. “At the moment, lab is at the forefront.”

Lawrence J. Jennings, MD  PhD
Lawrence J. Jennings, MD PhD
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Associate Professor, Feinberg School of Medicine
  • Primary Specialty Pathology
Does Not Schedule or Accept New Patients
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