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A Global Resource for Patients
Lab Tests Online Gets New Look, Other Changes
By George Linzer

After 9 years and more than 200 million page views, Lab Tests Online received a facelift that was formally unveiled here in Chicago this week. The new design, which will be rolled out to the U.K. and Australian versions in the coming months, retains the same ease of navigation that earned the site accolades as “a masterfully simple page” when it launched in 2001. The update is one of several important changes that AACC is introducing to Lab Tests Online.

A More Modern Lab Tests Online

When AACC first designed Lab Tests Online, the World Wide Web was just 7 years old and most users still relied on dial-up connections to the Internet. Broadband hadn’t yet entered the common lexicon. Audiences were still learning how to navigate among very different-looking sites as designers continued to test the bounds of usability and user interfaces. And the browser war between Netscape and Microsoft, which had dominated the Web and frustrated web designers for years, was just reaching its peak.

Under these circumstances, Lab Tests Online was designed to load quickly and to function correctly in the various versions of Netscape and Internet Explorer that were available at the time, providing users with fast and easy access to the information they wanted. At the time, cool interactive features and load-intensive graphics that distracted from the vital content being sought were deemed inappropriate as they could add to the stress users already were experiencing due to the medical concerns that brought them to the site.

Today, Lab Tests Online has been available to users for more than half the life of the World Wide Web. The U.S. version of the site has hosted more than 60 million visitors, and it continues to win respect as one of the smartest health sites on the Web. The initial site design succeeded in making the content accessible to users, but with broadband connections increasingly more common and user expectations more demanding, the time to modernize the site had arrived.

The redesign debuted this week updates the site to take advantage of changes that have occurred to the Web over the years. For example, due to the increase in average computer monitor size and screen resolution, the pages on the site are now 33% wider than in the earlier version. Improved typographic styling, enhanced interactivity, and a more refined approach to page organization are among the many other changes users will find in Lab Tests Online 2.0. But the most obvious change is the site’s new look.

New Logo is Good Medicine

In the new design, AACC has strengthened Lab Tests Online’s association with the medical community by replacing the caduceus—the winged staff with two intertwined serpents—with the more widely accepted and recognized symbol of medicine, the Staff of Aesculapius, which is a wingless staff with a single serpent wrapped around it. The American Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association, the Medical Council of New Zealand, and the World Health Organization all use the Staff of Aesculapius. The custom version of this true symbol of medicine that was created to be part of the Lab Tests Online identity includes a serpent wrapped around a test tube. As a showcase for laboratory medicine, Lab Tests Online now more than ever emphasizes that laboratory medicine is a vital part of the medical system.

Executive Editor to Strengthen Global Partnership

In concert with the new global era of Lab Tests Online, AACC recently created the role of executive editor for Lab Tests Online’s global network of sites. The role of the executive editor is to foster an open and transparent collaboration across all Lab Tests Online sites and to communicate with Lab Tests Online editors around the globe. Most importantly, the Executive Editor will help the other sites to balance the requirements of the Lab Tests Online editorial policies and guidelines with unique local requirements (See Announcement below).

As the editors in the partnering countries turned their attention from translation and site launch to ongoing development and maintenance, it was apparent that they had begun to confront many of the same issues that the U.S. Editorial Review Board had addressed over the years. Concerned that they were “reinventing the wheel,” AACC opted to increase its regular communication with each site through the executive editor, who will offer the benefit of the U.S. editors’ experience in reinforcing the implementation of the Lab Tests Online editorial policies and guidelines.

First Executive Editor Named to Lab Tests Online

In response to the growing number of Lab Tests Online websites around the world, AACC has named Lab Tests Online editor D. Robert Dufour, MD, to the newly created position of executive editor for the global network. Dufour is a 9-year veteran of Lab Tests Online (www.labtestsonline.org) and an original member of the site’s editorial review board. He has served as the board’s editorial liaison to the international collaboration for the last 5 years.

In making the appointment, AACC President Barbara Goldsmith, PhD, cited Dr. Dufour’s unique qualifications for the role. “Bob’s in-depth knowledge of Lab Tests Online and his familiarity with laboratory medicine as it is practiced abroad make him an ideal choice to help our international partners sustain the level of quality that people expect of Lab Tests Online. AACC is very grateful for his continued contributions to making Lab Tests Online a success in the U.S. and elsewhere. ”

The executive editor’s primary role will be to support the implementation of the Lab Tests Online editorial policies and guidelines at the Lab Tests Online sites in Europe, Australia, and very soon, in Asia. It is through these policies and guidelines that AACC believes it can best maintain the high levels of quality and consistency of Lab Tests Online in each country. Dufour says he expects to increase the frequency of communication with the editorial teams of each site, both virtually via email and telephone, and in face-to-face meetings, and provide assistance as they confront many of the same editorial issues faced here in the U.S. AACC anticipates that there will be 14 live versions of Lab Tests Online by the end of the year, in 12 languages: English, Spanish, German, Italian, Polish, Hungarian, Greek, Czech, French, Portuguese, Turkish, and Chinese.

Dufour, who retired in 2005, nevertheless maintains an active schedule that includes frequent speaking and teaching engagements around the country, conducting international CAP inspections, and working 2 days a week at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. In addition, he continues to write and edit books on laboratory medicine, as well as maintain his editorial responsibilities to Lab Tests Online.

Along with his many professional activities, Dufour has also served on the AACC board of directors as well as numerous committees. He has also served as NACB president.

A Living Information Network

As an Internet resource that has expanded to nine other countries, with four more on the way, Lab Tests Online faces the twin challenges of keeping its information current in multiple languages and maintaining the highest levels of quality and consistency across each Lab Tests Online site. Lab Tests Online is not simply a website but a living information network that will need to change and adapt as it matures on both the domestic and global stage.

The new logo and design, and the leadership that the executive editor will provide AACC’s partners, are important steps in sustaining Lab Tests Online as a global standard for patient education.

George Linzer, Executive Producer, Lab Tests Online.

A Look Back at the Evolution of Lab Tests Online

Shirley Welch, PhD, DABCC, FACB, is one of the original members of the Lab Tests Online editorial review board. As she contemplates retiring both from her day job as director of chemistry and toxicology with Kaiser Permanente and from Lab Tests Online, we asked her a few questions about her participation with Lab Tests Online.

Q: You were a supporter of Lab Tests Online before the website even had a name. How did you first get involved with the project?
A:
I was on the AACC board of directors when this was first discussed and the decision was made to get the project started. It seemed like a great idea and wonderful opportunity, so I volunteered to be part of the group that came up with the basic analyte template. We started with analytes like BUN and PSA as our examples.

Q: In many respects, Lab Tests Online was a big risk for AACC to undertake.  What were your hopes and expectations for the website back in November/December 2000 when you first started developing that analyte template?  
A:
My hope was that it would give AACC some experience with “doing” web-based public information, and that it would inform the public about laboratory medicine in an unbiased and evidence-based manner and, perhaps, even inform the public about the laboratory medicine profession.

Q: Lab Tests Online is an unusual type of project for AACC in the extent of its collaboration with so many other laboratory associations.  What has it been like to work so closely with so many different groups and why has it been so important to include these groups?  
A:
The site would not be nearly as successful if we didn't include all of these other groups.  The different organizations offer different expertise and different perspectives that have helped bring balance to the articles on the site.  In general, everyone on the editorial board has been easy to work with and brought value to the process.  

Q: Corporate sponsors have played a vital role in funding the site over the years, even though there seems to be little direct return on investment for them.  Why do you think they continue to support the site year after year?  
A:
You probably need to ask them this question, but if I had to guess, I would say that the increased visibility that Lab Tests Online gives to the profession benefits everyone, including our sponsors. They’re a pretty savvy bunch, you know. In fact, the idea of doing a public education website on testing came from several of our eventual sponsors.

Q: It's been 9 years since you and your colleagues on the Editorial Review Board started down this path, and now Lab Tests Online is going to China and Turkey after being translated into 9 other languages, and traffic to the original site continues to grow and is approaching 1.5 million users per month.  What do you think about all that?  
A:
I think it's fantastic. I don't think the AACC board of directors ever imagined how successful the site would be. I’m not sure we even really knew how it was going to be used. It says a lot about AACC that the organization was willing to risk the money and so many people volunteered so much time on a project that was a bit of a risk.  And the fact that it is still expanding and growing speaks to the on-going commitment that AACC and our partners and sponsors have in the project. It also demonstrates how relevant it still is.