Major changes rarely evolve in a linear fashion. It usually comes down to a group of people pushing forward a new model while another group holds on with both hands to the status quo. Then a small group in the middle plays its role as the bridge to both sides.
So it goes with digital pathology. The inevitability of pathology becoming fully digital is not in question. It’s the timeline that causes the rub. And the timeline can be drawn roughly across generational, and to some degree, governmental lines. Younger physicians, having grown up with gaming and tablet technologies at their fingertips, are eager to integrate the familiar into their work life. Physicians who are more senior are not as comfortable in general with digital technologies, and many see more obstacles than benefits.
That said, many senior-level pathologists and academic thought leaders are blazing the way to integrate state-of-the-art technologies within clinical practices. But you are hard-pressed to find a younger physician who thinks the process is moving quickly enough.
Adoption is accelerating
We were in the market very early and have watched the forward momentum. This year there is significantly more movement than previous years. Reimbursement cuts and ACA requirements are driving the consolidations of pathology groups. Commercial labs will increasingly benefit as medical facilities begin to outsource their lab services. But not all hospitals are ready to hand over their pathology operation. We are seeing that the financial realities of current pathology reimbursement is sharpening interest in the potential digital pathology can bring to increase volume and reach.
Digital pathology helps healthcare providers deliver the collaborative care that can improve patient outcomes and grow their income stream. However, the change from glass to digital imposes a learning curve that is time consuming, and is in some ways more difficult than glass. How to keep up with the growing patient load in a constrained financial environment, is the challenge. And while federal funding for new technologies is available for those providing services to underserved areas, the need is greater than the funds available.
The Digital Pathology Advantages
Over 20 years ago most Radiologists swore they’d never read a digital image. Today, those same Docs will tell you if their digital images were taken away – they’d retire. In the not so distant future, the same will likely be true of digital pathology. The advantages are ultimately too hard to ignore.
Digital pathology provides:
- Rural patients with access to experienced specialists who can make the critical diagnosis
- Specialists with an avenue to extend their educational and clinical reach
- Payors with a reduced cost of diagnostically validated treatment
- Medical facilities with a cost savings for validating treatment plans with image and meta-data analytics
- Physicians with tools to access the data within thousands of images comparing markers to find the most precise data-driven diagnosis
- An efficient way to transmit images and diagnostic decisions around the globe
- A higher volume of second opinion referrals for improved care and profitability
- Quality assurance and risk avoidance with a real-time methodology to perform peer reviews that include quality validation points labeling major and minor points of agreement and disagreement with a diagnosis.
And so much more.
The Tipping Point
It’s our job as technologists to create solutions for physicians to enhance their work environment, to provide affordable options, to make crossing the chasm easier. The evolving health care landscape makes this an exciting time for providing new technologies and, today, digital pathology is perched on a tipping point. It will push and, to some extent, lead health care facilities across the U.S. toward new ways of improving patient care and finding new avenues of growth and revenues.