In nearly every conversation we have with major hospital centers and pathology labs, the question comes up about how to initiate 2nd opinion pathology referrals from outside the US. Everybody wants to know: how can we work with China…or India…or other areas of the world where pathology is dramatically underserved? Most US expert centers have a healthy referral business, with slides arriving via mail and FedEx daily/weekly. Going digital in pathology would provide the means to increase referral business by streamlining and accelerating the process, from image acquisition to diagnostic report.
The pathology workflow
While the international market needs are recognized, one of our US clients told me there’d be a riot in his department if substantially more business came in the door. Pathologists are already challenged to keep up with their current workload. And yet, the reduction in reimbursements is pushing his institution and many others to find additional revenues in combination with technologies to better address the international potential in a more streamlined approach.
When you consider the potential volume of serving countries around the world that are underserved by specialist pathologists, there is an excellent case to be made for the fully developed digital pathology workflow.
What’s in a healthcare brand name? Apparently a lot.
Another thing on the radar of US medical center administrators is that there is a growing class of global patients who are able to pay for the premium services available from US pathology specialists. But these patients and/or their doctors are very brand conscious.
I’ve spoken with senior executives in healthcare in the PacRim, where the Vice Chair of a major healthcare provider in the Philippines told me he estimates there are 300 pathologists located in the Philippines to serve a population of 30 million. In spite of the critical need, he was insistent that his firm would only use the services of two well-known US expert centers. No others would be acceptable. So medical facilities wanting to pursue international patients should consider how they are perceived around the world and make sure that they are telling the story of their competencies and achievements.
It’s not just about technology
Technology can bridge the distance and connect international cases/images from remote referring physicians and their patients, to US pathology specialists. A handful of US expert centers have been successful in forging international pathology relationships. But the international need hasn’t yet translated into broad success for US specialists.
Fundamentally, securing ongoing international referrals is at base about relationships. Those institutions making inroads have focused on relationship building. Often a foreign-born pathologist on staff has connections back home. This person makes frequent visits, 3-4 times per year, and makes a point of connecting to pathologists and medical facilities. These relationships are nurtured over years, not months and over time, the relationship grows the business.
The path forward for US medical centers and remote consult pathology
There’s a significant value in providing pathology as a digital offering for international physicians and their patients. The 2nd opinion diagnosis can be a potential gateway to overseas patients seeking treatment in the U.S. But there are still hurdles to be jumped to make this work in volume.
The truth is that the US has 70 percent of the world’s pathologists. The world will eventually be at our door for support from our specialists. To prepare for that potential, major hospital centers will need to implement relationship building and logistical accommodations to serve the international marketplace. They will also need to put in place digital technologies to more easily reach and accommodate the market volume and communication needs required to support remote diagnostic consults in pathology.
Stay up to date about the growth and adoption of digital pathology by subscribing to instant updates of Corista's blog.