In 2017, the medical world celebrated the 30-year anniversary of an invention that changed the way medical care is practiced around the globe. Telepathology was introduced to the world in 1987, and its impact has been felt ever since.
Telepathology involves the remote diagnosis of surgical pathology slides through the use of pathology scanners and whole slide imaging. It was first demonstrated when a surgical pathologist located in Washington, D.C. verified the breast biopsy diagnosis of a breast cancer patient in Texas. This was conducted using light microscopy and satellite communications.
Today, the use of telepathology is employed in medical facilities in more than thirty countries. Thousands of patients around the world now have immediate access to pathology specialists, and facilities no longer have to wait weeks for the time-consuming physical shipment of slides.
The invention and advancement of telepathology has especially made an impact on how efficiently cancer is diagnosed. Cancer is a leading cause of death and disability around the world. The treatment of cancer has been heavily influenced by the introduction of pathology and has vastly improved as a result. Developing countries are now getting specialized care despite a shortage of specialists, diagnostic accuracy has increased, and patient anxiety has been reduced since patients no longer have to wait weeks for their results. In the end, patients can receive the care they need much faster than before, which can save lives. Here’s what you need to know about telepathology and cancer diagnosis.
Telepathology is Especially Important for Developing Countries
Studies have shown that telepathology can improve cancer care in a large developing country. Areas where the creation of a pathology workforce is lagging could face complications in the future. It’s essential that pathologists step in and implement precision medicine in these areas so patients still receive the treatment they need no matter where they live. For example, an innovative telepathology program was recently implemented by the American Society of Clinical Pathology in Sub-Saharan Africa and Haiti. This program aimed to provide patients who live in underserved areas with access to cancer diagnostics, care, and treatment.
In many low- and middle-income countries, cancer is a leading cause of death due to the fact that there are not enough pathologists and other laboratory professionals to treat patients who have it. Medical facilities often don’t have on-site pathologists to evaluate tissues and cells. According to the World Health Organization, there is one pathologist for every 20,000 people in the U.S. and one for every one million people in sub-Saharan countries. Many of these countries also lack the adequate technology to provide diagnoses that are not only accurate but timely as well. In these areas of the world, cancer often goes undiagnosed or diagnosed too late.
Given this, there’s a large need for these areas to collaborate with health care leaders in developed countries to find solutions that increases access to cancer diagnostics. Telepathology is an effective means to provide reliable and comprehensive care that can save thousands of lives. Through the use of pathology scanners and whole slide imaging, there is no need for an on-site pathologist in developing countries and patients can still receive timely treatment with the aid of a pathologist on the other side of the world.
Telepathology Saves Time and Saves Lives
A survey of international clinical trials utilizing telepathology showed that there was “greater efficiencies in terms of time for diagnoses.” When it comes to the diagnosis of cancer, speed can mean everything; connecting a patient to the treatment they need requires not only an accurate diagnosis, but one that is provided in a timely manner. An early diagnosis generally increases the chances that a patient will be successfully treated. Consequences of delayed care include lower likelihood of survival, higher costs, and greater morbidity of treatment. Delayed diagnoses can result in disability and death that could have been avoidable.
Providing care as early as possible for cancer patients is an important strategy for any medical care facility. By utilizing telepathology, the diagnostics of cancer can be done in almost real time. In a U.K. study that investigated the effectiveness of sending digital images for remote reading, the average time for image selection and digitization was nine and a half minutes. Rather than waiting weeks for slides to be shipped and studied and for the results to be sent back, analyzation can be done in a few hours. As soon as the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment can begin. This reduces the risk of delayed care and prevents avoidable death and disability.
Telepathology Reduces Anxiety for Cancer Patients
Understandably, cancer patients need time to adjust. They often experience feelings of fear, stress, depression, and anxiety, all of which can have a negative impact on their quality of life as well as quality of care. This can occur even if cancer hasn’t been confirmed; many patients suffer from anxiety and distress as they are being screened for cancer and are awaiting the test results. This can cause physical problems such as vomiting, nausea, and being unable to sleep. Sometimes, patients delay treatment or miss check-ups when they are feeling this way.
Telepathology reduces the time it takes to receive accurate diagnoses. Through the use of telepathology, a diagnosis can take place in real time. Rather than waiting weeks, which significantly impacts feelings of distress and anxiety, patients receive the news much more quickly. Not only does this alleviate those negative feelings, but by understanding that they can now receive the care they need more quickly (which in the end can save their life), patients will be more at ease and may be more willing to cooperate with treatment.
By reducing patient anxiety, saving time, and providing care to all corners of the world, telepathology is improving the way cancer diagnostics are conducted. Cancer is now detected–and treated–faster and more accurately than ever before. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that cancer cases and deaths will have increased by 2020. As time goes on and the world’s population continues to require cancer treatment, telepathology leverages the expertise of pathologists and provides necessary care throughout the world.