Organ procurement is a difficult process, but it has been made a little easier thanks to the use of telepathology. Real-time access to pathologists has led to an increase in organ transplants. We look at how.
Organ transplants have some of the highest demand and lowest supply levels of any healthcare procedure. Some 115,000 people are currently on the U.S. transplant waiting list, and for each of these people, time is of the essence. If they don’t get a replacement organ in time, they will die.
The use of telepathology in organ transplants, however, is easing up some of that strain. Telecommunication technology is allowing doctors to perform more organ transplants every day. Read on to learn more about this lifesaving technology.
The Role of Pathology in Organ Transplants
At first, it may not seem clear why pathology is a part of the organ donation process. Wouldn’t greater access to surgeons help increase the number of transplants, not the number of pathologists? But the truth is, before the surgeon even begins to scrub up, there are a number of hurdles that have to be cleared.
Not every donated organ is healthy enough to work in a transplant, and not every organ is a match for every donor. Certain factors, such as blood type, have to be considered, and the organ must be deemed healthy enough for a transplant. This is where pathologists come in.
Pathologists perform biopsies of the potential donor organ. They check that everything seems to be in order with the organ, and they figure out who will be a good fit for the donor organ. Only once they give the okay does the transplantation procedure begin.
The Challenges of Traditional Organ Donation Procedures
One of the biggest factors in successful organ transplants is timeliness. The more delays there are in the procedure, the more likely the recipient of the organ is to die. In fact, about twenty people die every day waiting for an organ transplant.
Not only is the wellbeing of the patient at risk, the health of the donor organ can depend on rapid response. As these organs come from someone recently deceased, it is critical to properly preserve the organ before it starts to shut down. In some cases, this difference can be a matter of minutes.
While local pathologists are well-qualified to manage organ transplantation procedures, they can’t always be on call. If an organ becomes available in the middle of the night, during a holiday, or on a weekend, the right expert may not be around to do the necessary examination. This is where telepathology comes in.
The Use of Telepathology in Organ Transplants
Because pathology, unlike surgery, is analysis-based, a pathologist doesn’t have to be at the same hospital as the organ to perform the needed tests. They can be on the other side of the world and, with the technology available today, they can analyze the organ in real time. This offers huge benefits in increasing the number of organ transplants.
Let’s say a car crash victim comes into the emergency room at two in the morning and is declared deceased at three. The local pathologist may be asleep in their bed, but the hospital can take the needed samples from the organ and send the data to a pathologist in Sweden who is still at work. The Swedish pathologist can make the call on the organ and send the result back to the hospital in a matter of minutes or hours, where it might once have taken half a day.
Telepathology can also be excellent for collaborative medical decisions. In some cases, a pathologist may want to get a second opinion from a colleague. It is very hard for more than one person to look at a physical slide at once; with telepathology, multiple experts can look at the data to make the best decision for the situation.
The Impact of Telepathology
Another one of the biggest factors in successful transplants is accuracy. The analysis of the organ and the donor match need to be spot on or the operation could endanger both the patient and the organ. Losing an organ that could have saved another life because of human error isn’t acceptable when we have nearly two dozen people dying every day waiting for transplants.
Telepathology allows pathologists to see the images better during their analysis. They can zoom in on details you might not be able to with traditional slides. They also have the added safety net of artificial intelligence helping them with their analysis.
There are three main categories of telepathology: static image-based systems, virtual slide systems, and real-time systems.
Image-based systems use images captured from a digital camera attached to a microscope. An area of the image is selected and sent for analysis.
Virtual slide systems are much closer to traditional analytic procedures. Someone scans a pathology specimen slide and sends a high-resolution image to the pathologist. This allows them to see the whole image, rather than a selected portion.
Real-time systems allow the most rapid turnaround with results. In this system, the pathologist guides a robotically-operated microscope to perform the analysis they need to. So while they may be in France and their patient might be in Hoboken, the pathologist is actually operating the machinery performing their organ analysis.
Think of it as the world’s most important remote control vehicle.
Find a Telepathologist
Telepathology is changing the face of organ transplants today. Whereas patients once had to wait hours or days to get pathology results back, now they can have an answer in just a few minutes or hours. The use of telepathology is sure to keep the number of transplant-related deaths on the decline.
If you’re looking for a telepathologist, get in touch with us at Specialist Direct. We provide end-to-end telehealth solutions that ensure that patients receive the absolute best clinical care. Contact us today to start saving more lives.