Dermatology patients rely on their physicians to provide accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans. With three out of four providers indicating electronic medical/health (EMR/EHR) systems enhance patient care, integration with pathology reporting is a valuable transition every clinic should consider.
You want the most cost-effective and reliable method to link information between your dermatology clinic and the laboratory’s lab information system (LIS). By breaking down the limitations of traditional paper communication, learning about interfaces, examining the two types of integration, and understanding the interface challenges, we’ll cover all of the basics you need to know about integrating an electronic interface to elevate your practice and improve patient care.
Many dermatology clinics continue to rely on traditional paper when it comes to lab correspondence. When ordering tests, these practices handwrite requisition forms and manually create carbon copies, so a record stays in the office. Once received by the lab, the requisition information is typed into the LIS and matched to the biopsy. When the lab completes the patient report, the paper is attached and sent back to the clinic via fax, mail, or courier.
The exchange of paper between clinics and labs is tried and true for many; however, it does open the door to certain errors that can impact patient care, such as the amount of time it takes to write out forms and re-enter the same data into the LIS. The longer it takes to process and receive information, the longer it will take a patient to receive a diagnosis. It also increases the chance for errors to occur during user translation. Repeatedly entering the same data into patient records invites opportunities for human error. Despite these drawbacks, many clinics continue to use paper as a standard, especially if an efficient electronic health record is not being utilized.
While working with paper can lead to inaccuracies or delays, an electronic interface can decrease turnaround times and errors. These benefits appeal to tech-savvy dermatologists, who have a 63 percent adoption rate of EHR technology.
A significant benefit of integrating the clinic EHR with pathology reporting is that fields and data entered into one system can communicate with an entirely different system. As a result, users from the clinic and the lab can search the same patient data or perform quality lookbacks through their EMR using their current systems. This reduces data entry errors and can also allow for identification of improperly labeled specimens, reducing patient risk.
Types of Interfaces
Choosing the right electronic interface can help increase a lab’s efficiency and workflow.
There are two types of interface for you to consider: unidirectional and bidirectional. A unidirectional interface can only transmit information one way. It can either send orders from the clinic to the lab or receive results from the lab to the clinic. The latter requires clinics to continue to submit paper orders.
Using a bidirectional interface provides a convenient two-way line of communication between the clinic and the lab. Sending and receiving digital orders can reduce time and mistakes, though a bidirectional interface requires programming for both locations. Both types of interfaces are utilized with success, depending on the unique workflow of each practice.
Once an electronic interface is selected, real work is required before it can be activated. As more than half of dermatologists see over 50 patients per day, the initial investment of time and effort will pay off in the long run with productivity and dependability.
Interfaces are not simple plug-and-play systems. Individually coded, they require IT support to set up a secure line using a unique virtual private network (VPN) or other similar structure. Programmers use health language 7 (HL7) to reliably transfer patient records and study orders between the clinic and the lab. Full-service dermpath labs like PathologyWatch are designed to shoulder the burden of integrating an electronic interface into your practice.
Today’s EMR systems are full of complexities and functionality, with one leading vendor providing 3,100 automated treatment plans and procedures for dermatologists. By looking at the differences between a paper and digital workflow, exploring different types of integration, and understanding installation, you can assess whether integration with pathology reporting can help you get the most out of your EMR and your practice.
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Is your dermatology practice ready for digital pathology? Most physicians feel the need to create a more efficient patient care process, but many don’t realize the far-reaching advantages of using a digital pathology workflow.
According to a 2018 survey of US healthcare consumers and physicians, up to 69 percent of physicians, including dermatologists, are interested in increasing the use of digital tools to improve patient care, among other purposes. Due to recent advances in digital pathology, there is an alternative for dermatology clinics that typically rely on microscopy and glass slides: the online access of digital slides and reads from academic-level dermatopathologists. Companies like PathologyWatch, which offers whole-slide imaging to dermatologists, are helping digital pathology quicken its pace to the forefront of dermatology patient care.
As complications like COVID-19 force healthcare providers to consider alternative options to traditional office visits, dermatologists must find a way to abide by HIPAA guidelines while remaining profitable. Experts agree that a digital system can be cost neutral and even save money for medical practices.
Three critical factors contribute to a successful dermatology practice: efficiency, accessibility, and customer satisfaction. Each of these can improve with the adoption of a digital pathology platform.
1. Digital pathology is the solution for a more efficient and profitable pathology process.
According to experts, current trends in the traditional pathology model were already facing transformation. Based on data collected by DARK Daily, between 2007 and 2017, the pathologist workforce reduced its numbers by almost 18 percent, while the pathologist’s diagnostic workload rose by 41.7 percent.
Such imbalance is a formula for potential disaster as technicians scramble to meet lab work demands while using manual processes to prepare slides, mail specimens, collect and organize test results, and input data for each patient’s specimen slide.
Those who work in labs recognize that a digital pathology system may help to reduce errors and create efficiency, even while the workload increases. Fortunately, adopting a digital workflow and imaging system reduces the risk of mistakes while inputting data, eliminates redundancy in handling slides, and speeds up the process for issuing test results. Laboratories that provide digital images of the glass slides can also result in 24/7 access to slides by clinicians.
2. Digitized slides enable collaboration among specialists.
With whole-slide images digitally cataloged, doctors can easily access a patient’s specimen themselves and securely share it anywhere and anytime with fellow pathologists. Such collaborative practices heighten the quality of care at all participating facilities rather than limiting expertise to one or two locations. “We place a lot of value in consulting, case sharing, and communicating in our practice so that each hospital receives the benefit of our combined knowledge and experience,” says Nicolas G. Cacciabeve, MD, a managing member at Advanced Pathology Associates.
Cacciabeve adds that incorporating whole-slide imaging into their practice workflow has led to an improvement in the way they do things. “It drives efficiency and improves access to expertise,” he says.
The ability to extend patient care to those who often face challenges accessing specialized care is an exciting feature of digital technology. For healthcare professionals, providing treatment to the most vulnerable communities, particularly those in rural communities, is a constant challenge.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, almost 25 percent of Americans living in rural areas do not have a primary care provider (PCP) or health center where they can receive regular medical services. And with skin cancer ranking as the most common form of cancer in the US, people living in rural, agricultural areas could particularly benefit from access to dermatopathologists, who can examine a digitalized specimen and work with a local physician to design a treatment plan. Such services wouldn’t be possible without digital pathology technology.
3. Improve customer confidence with a digital platform.
The expanded access and collaboration available with the adoption of digital pathology also results in equivalent or improved patient outcomes. Zoltan Laszik, MD, PhD, professor of clinical pathology at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, directed a team to collect results between 30 pathologists and 800 test slides distributed among three hospitals. “There was not a single case that was misdiagnosed because of the digital technology, and the benefits were immediate from hospital to hospital,” Laszik says. By improving access to expertise and facilitating collaboration, Laszik and Cacciabeve see digital pathology as a vehicle to increase the speed and accuracy of diagnosis while innovating the modern standard of patient care.
While digital technology isn’t new, the possibilities digital pathology creates for the dermatopathology field to streamline lab processes, expand patient access to specialized care, and improve customer satisfaction are exciting and work together to ultimately help physicians take better care of their patients.