Is it cancer? Waiting for a diagnosis of any kind is one of the most challenging events you can face in life. What if your patients didn’t have to wait so long?
Telepathology opens the door to faster, more efficient answers, and it creates opportunities for doctors and patients. Plus, it’s one of the fastest-growing markets in medicine.
What is Telepathology, and How Does It Work?
Telepathology is the use of technology to complete pathology testing remotely. Pathologists get necessary information electronically to complete research, provide consults, or even give a primary diagnosis.
Would it surprise you to learn that telepathology has existed for more than thirty years? Dr. Ronald S. Weinstein invented telepathology in the 1980s and worked on the technology through the early 2000s. As technology advanced, doctors could share information digitally and the applications for medicine expanded.
The ability to share data with more specialists opened doors for doctors to access colleagues across the country or around the world. One physician can now send detailed images to multiple colleagues for input.
Current Telepathology Technology
The only thing limiting telepathology applications is existing technology. Currently, in the United States, two digital pathology devices carry FDA approval. Several more tools hold approval for provisional use to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several new tools and more powerful computers led to stunning telepathology applications. It’s even possible to zoom in without degrading the quality of an image.
There are three primary types of telepathology systems. Each system provides unique perspectives but they all deliver accurate results.
- Real-time systems allow pathologists to use a remote microscope. Using robotics, the pathologist can adjust the microscope as needed to view the slide.
- Static image-based systems rely on digital images of the slides and electronic transmissions.
- Virtual slide systems involve the primary physician scanning a specimen. Then they send a high-resolution image to the pathologist.
Why Use Telepathology?
Telepathology is cutting edge technology with almost endless applications. Like any new technology, it’s necessary to know how it improves on the existing system.
1. Get Fast, Accurate Diagnoses
Waiting for a diagnosis is miserable. Sitting by the phone after surgery to find out whether the surgeon got all of the cancer feels awful. How nice would it feel to give your patient a fast, accurate diagnosis?
It takes far less time to scan information at your office and send off the electronic images than to send samples the traditional way. The equipment is easy to use and processes information quickly.
The accuracy of telepathology results rival traditional pathology methods. It even reduces the incidents of human error because pathologists get access to more information. Additionally, digital images get computer assistance that traditional methods don’t have.
2. Reach Low Resource Patients
Telepathology created pathways to reach underserved patients, and several studies support the impact of telepathology on developing countries.
Consider the what telepathology could mean for underserved and remote locations in the United States. Rural communities with limited doctors and no access to specialists could get the answers without driving to a city.
Doctors can serve more people with minimal, portable equipment. They can even reach people who typically lack access to timely treatment and limit the frequency of appointments for patients who lack the money or transportation to follow-up.
3. Access to More Specialists
The world learned a lot from COVID-19. As the virus spread around the world it helped that experts could share critical information. Pandemic aside, think about how telepathology could help the diagnosis of rare conditions!
Imagine what doctors could accomplish with more chances to collaborate. Telepathology removes barriers and allows access to more specialists to find real solutions.
Virtual access means that specialists all see the same information at the same time. It is helpful in complex cases that need input from many specialists. The team can reach a common decision faster and feel more confident in it.
Another aspect of telepathology that you can’t overlook is the access to information. With digital information, it’s possible to create a library of samples for comparison and analysis.
4. Save Time and Money
Telepathology initially requires some money to purchase equipment. However, it ultimately costs less than alternatives. From using a roaming pathologist to hiring a resident to handle samples, telepathology saves money.
Digging deeper, intermittent access to a pathologist means samples sit and wait for their next rotation. Further, residents may not have enough experience for some cases and require more assistance. Both situations mean time delays in getting answers.
Embracing digital pathology options can also streamline your lab operations. It’s an effective way to improve workflow in your pathology department.
How much time would you save by eliminating some steps you have to use with physical samples? Think about every time you have to sign in a sample or filling out a report. Telepathology automates many of those steps.
Do you remember that library of samples noted above? Imagine the impact that type of database could have. Not only could a digital library eliminate storage issues but it could also lead to more automation by providing computers with more data.
5. More Opportunities to Work and Learn Remotely
Over the past year, the medical community faced new challenges due to COVID-19. The need for pathology consults didn’t disappear. Telepathology played a larger role than ever.
Pathologists became one of many groups who learned they could work remotely. It became a potential long-term reality. Telepathology could free up valuable space in hospitals and give pathologists more freedom.
It’s not easy to overlook the opportunity for education and training with telepathology. Medical students can watch and learn from almost anywhere. Digital pathology allows students to explore and learn in real-time situations.
The Future of Telepathology
Telepathology grows and develops more every day. New options, including artificial intelligence, impact the future of Telepathology tools. Machines already perform some medical analysis, including some parts of pathology.