Digital Pathology Improves Patient Outcomes and Enhances Financial Results for Laboratories of Any Size
Pathologists face systemic challenges in their day-to-day work. The complexity of cases is constantly increasing. Required turn-around times are getting shorter and shorter. And the specialty is facing a looming labor shortage.
In recent decades, fewer medical students are choosing pathology, while >75% of working pathologists are 45 years of age or older. The number of pathology residency programs is shrinking and, while the number of physicians in all residency programs has increased 20% in recent years, the number of residents in pathology is flat.
A predictive model published in the Journal of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine a decade ago warned that the number of U.S. pathologist full-time equivalents will fall from 5.7 in 2015 to 3.7 in 2030. Retirements of pathologists have recently cascaded to a “cliff,” making the shortage of pathologists critical. But telepathology solutions provide both an obvious answer to the shortage of personnel and new financial opportunities for the laboratories that adopt them.
Investments in Digital Pathology Solutions Aren’t Optional
Advances in image analysis software have streamlined some of the more mundane pathology tasks like counting cells or mitosis. Pathologists are more able to focus on the more engaging parts of their jobs like taking on unusual, challenging, and rare cases, educating clinical teams, and communicating findings with colleagues around the country and across the world.
The technological tools that have given pathologists this new level of professional freedom, however, are not optional. Younger pathologists are more tech-savvy than their older mentors. Newly certified pathologists are more inclined to accept positions in digital pathology-enabled laboratories than in older, analog laboratories. Laboratories must consider their ability to attract and retain talent when making decisions about adopting digital pathology solutions.
Fortunately, digital pathology solutions both reduce costs and create new revenue opportunities.
Cost Reductions with Telepathology Solutions
Some of the cost advantages of telepathology solutions are directly quantifiable, such as workforce efficiency, storage costs, and shipping. Other cost advantages of telepathology solutions are not as easily analyzed in terms of dollars and cents but clearly contribute to ROI. These include easier pathologist recruitment, streamlined access to results, and better communication among pathologists and with the physicians providing patient-facing care.
Slide handling and archiving
Several steps in the pathology workflow are manual. Glass slides must be sorted and matched to accessioned cases in LIS. The slides must then be manually delivered to pathologists, or, in the absence of telepathology, shipped to a remote lab.
Costs include not only sending slides to pathologists but keeping track of them. Once the slides have been assessed, they then must be sent to an off-site storage facility. There are additional costs if they must be retrieved.
When pathologists are located at multiple sites, there may be multiple carriers delivering the slides, each with its own packaging and shipping requirements. Someone has to track shipping and receiving, and labs must have personnel to communicate with other facilities about missing slides.
HIPAA requirements apply to every stage of the process, with ambiguous liability for both sender and receiver.
Whole slide imaging with a telepathology scanner allows images of frozen sections to be sent across town, across the state, across the country, or around the world for diagnosis by the appropriate specialist. The physical slide can remain secure with the histology lab where it was prepared.
Meeting Changing CLIA Regulations
In the United States, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments require laboratories to store slides on-site or in climate-controlled storage facilities. Storage and retrieval costs can run into hundreds of dollars for each case. Laboratories assume liability for lost or damaged slides, and must budget for legal costs should loss or damage occur. Light, extreme temperature, and other environmental factors cause degradation of image quality.
CLIA imposes exacting regulations on U.S. laboratories for storing slides and formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded blocks. But the quality of digital images does not deteriorate with time, and on-site storage simplifies logistics and lowers the cost of retrieval.
Digital pathology solutions allow hospitals and clinics to set up a single core laboratory that can receive specimens, prepare slides, and manage the distribution, storage, and retrieval of digital images. Doing pathology from a single location improves workflow, facilitates consistent slide quality, and ensures timely delivery of results. Having a single processing center also makes it possible to balance the workload of multiple pathologists, even when patient caseload is unpredictable.
Revenue Enhancements with Telepathology Solutions
Digital pathology solutions enhance the revenue streams generated by an analog pathology laboratory. They also create de novo sources of revenue that are only possible with digital pathology.
Same Slide at the Same Time
Digitization gives pathologists the flexibility to see the same slide at the same time with colleagues around the world. Case sharing generates financial benefits for both the senders and the receivers of cases.
Digital outsourcing generates opportunities for expert second opinions from sub-specialists. Digital outsourcing eliminates backlogs. It creates opportunities for objective assessment of quality of the local lab.
Digital pathology enables hospitals to treat patients who otherwise would be referred elsewhere. Patients are spared the cost of travel, and have easier access to supportive family and friends during their stay. The hospital gains revenue enhancement from additional patient stays.
Additional Revenue Streams
Pathology laboratories that have pathologists, digital pathology tools, specimens, and patient outcomes generate big data that can be mined to create new diagnostic algorithms. These algorithms identify histologic markers that can be correlated with the progression of disease independently of currently recognized pathologic and clinical features. They allow pathologists to accomplish diagnoses that were previously impossible to achieve manually. They allow the creation of computer-assisted diagnostics from sub-visual features of morphology, such as shape, texture, and architecture that help overcome the challenges posed by subjective analysis.
Digital pathology can transform a laboratory into a brand of diagnostic excellence. Digital pathology can transform a hospital into a trusted destination where patients feel assured of the best possible outcomes for their health.
Let Specialist Direct show you what our technology can do for your pathology lab. Schedule a demonstration of Specialist Direct technology today!