3 Reasons Why Seeing a Digital Slide Can Improve Dermatologist–Patient Communication

As healthcare moves toward a value-based model, patient-centered care is the focus of health delivery systems. In fact, the NIH states that “patient-centered care is a key component to ensure that all patients have access to the kind of care that works for them.” 

We believe at least two things bring the patient’s needs to the forefront of dermatological care: communication and digital technology. When combined, they create a healthy, comfortable environment for patients to not only see the images associated with their condition but to have detailed discussions about their treatment options. 

Can looking at a digital slide make a more satisfied patient? The truth is that it certainly helps. 

Based on groundbreaking research, a study published by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies found that “communicating the importance of medical evidence and a balanced representation of options is the first step toward accelerating patient engagement in shared decision making.” 

As many dermatopathology labs transition to digital technologies, doctors can use whole-slide images and viewers to visually supplement their discussions with patients and provide a deeper understanding of their diagnosis and treatment options. 

“If either the patient or healthcare provider lacks [a] clear understanding of the information conveyed, the delivery of care is compromised,” explains researcher Haran Ratna in a Harvard Public Health Review. 

According to the Harvard study, there is a three-pronged process for effective communication:

  1. Patients must feel comfortable discussing their healthcare concerns with healthcare workers.
  2. Healthcare workers must listen and interpret those concerns to respond appropriately.
  3. To prevent those complaints from recurring, workers must discuss those concerns with patients in a way that creates an understanding and empowers patients with preventative measures to maintain their health. 

In a survey about communicating medical evidence, only 59 percent of surveyed patients indicated feeling “extremely comfortable” asking their provider questions. Adding a visual element such as a digital slide to the dermatologist–patient discussion can be an effective way to illustrate a patient’s condition and address concerns about treatment options. Using digital slides can improve patient comprehension, encourage shared medical decisions, and improve overall patient care.

1. Improves Patient Comprehension

When patients can see the actual diagnosis, it bolsters better doctor–patient communication. In a survey of cancer patients, 75 percent indicated they were interested in a patient–pathologist consultation program to increase their understanding of the diagnosis. Sharing whole-slide images can help pathologists to better engage with patients by pointing out areas of concern, defining medical terms, and answering questions. 

“Patients with poor health literacy may not only have problems with reading, [but] they may also have problems with conceptualizing risk factors,” explains Ratna, adding that placing relevant images next to corresponding text and placing appropriate captions that highlight the areas of interest improves the readability of the patient’s materials and prepares them to help make informed decisions on their care. 

2. Encourages Shared Medical Decisions

Allen-Taintor Dermatology approached PathologyWatch for ways to improve their care delivery to patients. They learned how digital pathology provided not only a faster turnaround time for a patient’s lab results (turnaround time is now 75 percent faster with results often received within two days of submission), but it also enabled their dermatologists to use a digital slide to encourage a conversation about the patient’s biopsy results and possible cancer care. 

Studies show that 80 percent of patients expect their healthcare provider to share the whole truth about their diagnosis. More than two-thirds (69 percent) want their provider to be open about the risks of treatment options, so they understand how each may affect them. By seeing the diagnosis, patients can have a comprehensive and informed conversation with their healthcare provider.

3. Opens Opportunities to Improve Overall Communication Skills 

Today’s technologies make it easier than ever for dermatologists to welcome open communication with their patients. But digital slides and viewers won’t replace the need for dermatologists to create a personal, trusting, and relaxed environment for their patients to discuss their patient’s concerns or questions about the images they see and the care their condition may require. 

“Telling your employees about the importance of communication is not enough. Doctors and managers at your healthcare practice will need to model positive communication behavior to demonstrate how to do it,” says medical expert Simon Mikail. “After all, positive communication is a must-have if you want to enhance patient experience at your practice.”

It’s time for a new approach to dermatological care. By using digital technology services that provide fast lab results that you can share, your patients will feel seen, heard, and understood.

No EMR, No Problem

Dermatologists and other skin care providers depend on dermatopathologists to accurately diagnose and manage skin biopsies. The lifetime risk of an individual experiencing melanoma is about 2.6 percent, which means you need to create a dependable standard of care. When it comes to dermatology, providing your patients with reliable and efficient care requires partnering with dependable dermatopathologists who can accurately diagnose skin diseases. And that’s just the beginning.

Clear and timely communication between clinician and pathologist is also imperative to ensure accurate diagnosis and patient satisfaction. With information and specimens passing through several people before finally reaching the hands of a clinician, the risk of miscommunication may adversely affect the quality of care provided to dermatology patients. 

A digital dermatopathology lab partner like PathologyWatch can provide access to industry-leading biopsy reads to help maintain the quality of care you give to your patients. While the most common way these services relay this information is through Electronic Medical Records (EMR), you don’t need to have an EMR to benefit from these state-of-the-art services. Let’s dive into five of the most powerful ways working with a digital dermpath solution can benefit your practice.

Access to Academic-Level Reads

There is nothing more important in the healthcare industry than providing your patients with exceptional care, and dermatology is no exception. With over 200,000 Americans diagnosed with—and over 7,000 killed by—melanoma every year, it’s vital to rely on capable pathologists to avoid missing any possible cases of skin cancer. This requires having strong confidence in your pathologists and their ability to accurately diagnose all of your patients. 

To ensure positive care for your patients, look for a lab with years of experience and credible education. If you don’t have EMR, make sure to find a group that knows how to provide access to quality reads within the time you need it. With options for automatic faxing and other forms of digital communication, you can still get those reads as quickly as you need them. Let pathologists focus on the diagnosis so you can focus on providing an optimal level of patient care.

Quick Turnaround Times

The last thing you want is to keep your patient waiting for weeks before receiving a diagnosis. For instance, knowing the stage and location of a melanoma as quickly as possible can help you make faster decisions about which type of treatment will be best for your patient early on in the process. 

Working with PathologyWatch can help you access most academic-level dermpath reports within 48 hours, even without an EMR. Make sure to find a dermpath lab that makes delivering reads their priority, as quick diagnoses are vital to help you make fast decisions to help those who need it most. 

Easy Access to Quality Diagnostic Reports

While there are certainly advantages to using an EMR software, it’s not necessary when providing great patient care. You can still have access to the same high level of diagnostic reports. Cloud access to high-resolution digital slides and diagnostic reports allows you to view reports at the press of a button. In addition, there are options for automatic fax reports sent straight to your office. 

On top of searching for a lab that offers convenient access to reports, it’s also important to search for a solution that will protect patient data from any ongoing security breaches. Whether reports are stored on the Cloud or between fax machines, make sure to find a group that keeps the security of patient data at the forefront of their solutions. 

Communication with Experts throughout the Country

Sometimes you need a second opinion, especially when it comes to something as life-threatening as melanoma. Another professional’s experience and perspective could potentially help you provide better care for your patients. 

EMR isn’t required to connect dermatologists to pathologists when there are other digital solutions available. A full-service dermpath lab like PathologyWatch can provide real-time access to slides and quick responses from leading dermatopathologists around the world. Whether you need to discuss a particular case or learn more about new industry advances, having a group of experts by your side to provide any required advice is a significant advantage.

Responsive Customer Service

Whether you have a question about a diagnosis or a report or simply want to share clinical background about a particular case, relying on the lab’s customer service team is necessary to keep operations running normally. In a field that relies on quick and accurate communication, finding a lab that is easy to reach can make things much easier on you and your staff. 

At PathologyWatch, our team is dedicated to giving you all the tools you need to provide excellent care for your patients, which includes broad insurance options. We’re also committed to a high level of customer service and responsive communication. We’re there to support you however you need it.

PathologyWatch is driven to help dermatologists provide better care to their patients by delivering digital pathology services to dermatologists throughout the United States. With access to academic-level reads, quick turnaround times, quality diagnostic reports, communication with skin experts around the world, and quality customer service, we ensure you have the tools you need to provide quality healthcare. Reach out to us today to learn more about how we can help you dial up the dermatology care you give your patients—with or without EMR.

3 Myths about EMR Systems Your Clinic Should Know in 2021

Studies show that almost half of all healthcare clinics currently use electronic health records. Most users agree that digital technology successfully streamlines work processes, increases productivity, and improves customer service while expanding a clinic’s reach to other practices. 

But measurable EMR success begins with a better understanding of what EMR systems can (or cannot) do for your medical practice. Let’s discuss three of the most common misconceptions about implementing EMR software as part of your medical practice. 

Myth #1 – EMR Implementation Is Expensive

Much like purchasing medical equipment, there is a cost associated with converting to EMR, but let’s consider where some of your money is going right now:

  • Did you know that it costs around $25,000 to fill a four-drawer filing cabinet and over $2,000 every year to maintain those files?
  • Did you know the typical office spends around $20 in labor to file each document and $120 in labor searching for lost documents?
  • Did you know that, on average, employees spend around 25 to 35 percent of their time looking for information essential to doing their jobs?

When you add it all up, implementing an EMR can actually save on costs, as it can help simplify office processes that position your practice to maximize revenue by tracking revenue management cycles, reducing data input errors, supporting automated tasks, and collecting data for reporting. 

A long-term investment in EMR can create more manageable and scalable practices.

Myth #2 – All EMR Systems Are the Same

EMR systems are not all the same. There are 16 distinct electronic health record platforms currently in use in healthcare systems. In addition, “most hospitals have at least 10 EHRs in place and only two percent are down to just a pair of platforms,” says Tom Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Healthcare IT News

Since interoperability is essential for patient care, PathologyWatch offers an HL7 interface for our partners to use.* We provide training for our labs and cover costs to ensure patient information is shared on a dependable and efficient EMR system.

“One challenge with information sharing in healthcare is that there are many universally accepted electronic medical record systems,” says April Larson, a practicing dermatologist and director of clinical implementation at PathologyWatch. “Therefore, while healthcare is becoming increasingly digital, many of us are still disconnected and cannot share medical information—such as clinic notes, lab results, and pathology reports—as seamlessly as we would like.”

When shopping for EMR software, be sure to select an interface that allows your clinic to transfer patient data safely among your health services networks. 

Myth #3 – EMRs Interfere with Patient Engagement

Do EMR systems interfere with positive patient experiences? The answer is “possibly.” Patient engagement can be affected by caregivers’ reliance on technology and data at the exclusion of personal connectivity. The keyword here is “reliance.” 

As a recent National Institutes of Health study states, 

For example, nurses and other health care providers can be so focused on data from monitors that they fail to detect potentially important subtle changes in clinical status. Problems may emerge based on the sheer volume of new devices, the complexity of the devices, the poor interface between multiple technologies at the bedside, and the haphazard introduction of new devices at the bedside. 

With EMR technology, it’s true that too much of a good thing can be hard to manage. For example, it may be difficult to find specific information without sorting through the entire patient file. And that could take time away from interacting with the patient during their appointment. 

However, improvements are underway as EMR software designers work with medical professionals to enhance the patient/physician experience by making EMR tech more user-friendly. And that means new updates that filter patient files so doctors can access specific information rather than scrolling through every page. Considering 42 percent of dermatologists spend an average of nine to 12 minutes with each patient, quick access to information can make better use of limited time. 

Other projected innovations in EMR will connect dermatologists with patients via text messaging and offer online appointment scheduling, automated medication reminders, online appointment request portals, etc. The possibilities are directly geared toward improving the patient experience and supporting your growing dermatology practice. 

Electronic medical records are a fundamental part of future medical office processes. By understanding the long-term benefits of an EMR investment, selecting the EMR system that’s right for your clinic, and developing a balance between technology and positive patient engagement, the success of your dermatology practice won’t be a myth: It will be a legend.

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*Over 90 percent of healthcare system vendors use a Health Level Seven (HL7) Interface, which refers to set standards for transferring data between healthcare providers.

Using EMR Technology to Reduce Clinical Errors

A healthy practice relies on establishing meaningful relationships with your patients. You want them to feel special and valued. So it can be a little disconcerting when you’ve pulled the file for a pregnant patient you anticipate is getting checked for melasma only to meet a 16-year-old new patient, who arrived to discuss his acne. 

Sometimes file mix-ups have more serious consequences than mistaken identities. Studies show that from the initial biopsy to the acquisition of the pathology report, a specimen may pass through the hands of more than twenty people and several workplaces. 

To prevent specimen mix-ups and other errors with patient information, NIH recommends, first, standardization in work processes, and second, automating tasks wherever possible. To do this, consider digitizing your clinic and laboratory processes. 

Here are three ways transitioning to electronic medical records (EMR) have helped numerous dermatology practices minimize errors and create a streamlined and error-free clinic workflow. 

Patient Data Is Easy to Share

EMR technology was designed to house patient information in a location that is easy to organize and share with other healthcare providers, insurance, pharmacies, labs, other clinics, billing, etc. 

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) says, “Documenting a patient’s record with all relevant and important facts, and having that information readily available, allows providers to furnish correct and appropriate services that can improve quality, safety, and efficiency.” 

At PathologyWatch, our clients appreciate easy access to digital images as well as pathology reports, patient’s HIPAA-compliant, digital medical history, etc., which are accessible on the patient’s EMR. 

EMR Provides a Complete Patient Record 

Did you know around one out of every 20 people who saw a doctor last year reported having to redo a test or procedure because their prior data was unavailable?

Maintaining a patient’s identity and complete medical history throughout the biopsy pathway is critical for the practice of dermatology and dermatopathology. Your patients need to trust that you can provide the best care based on a comprehensive understanding of their patient history. So while a recent study discovered 32 percent of people who visited a doctor within the past 12 months experienced a gap in information exchange, your patients shouldn’t have to worry about the quality of their care if you’ve transitioned their patient information to EMR. You can confidently address your patient’s case and concerns based on a complete and current patient record. 

Add Value To Other Parts of Workflow

Surveys show that 60 percent of clinics already have implemented EMRs in their practice, but most have not yet experienced the full capabilities that an interface provides. “The exchange of information through this interface can simplify your daily workflow considerably,” explains April Larson, a practicing dermatologist and director of clinical implementation and advisory board at PathologyWatch. “By way of an HL7 interface, the lab can send reports electronically directly to your patient chart and, in certain instances, populate the diagnosis and treatment, streamlining your review and signoff.”

The adoption of EMR technology minimizes menial, time-consuming tasks for your clinical staff and allows them to participate more in patient care, which increases both staff and patient satisfaction.

Your patients depend on you to provide the best care possible. When you use an EMR system to organize patient information that’s easy to access, update, and share with health services partners, you can focus on what really matters: your patient. 

Learn more about the pros and cons of an EMR interface here.

Identifying the Distinct Characteristics of Steatocystoma

Images shown are not intended to be used for the diagnosis or treatment of a disease or condition.

If you encounter a patient with bumps, typically measuring one to two centimeters wide (though they can be larger in diameter), that formed under relatively normal-looking skin and appear predominantly on the person’s chest, upper arms, neck, face, and legs, it may be steatocystoma. 

In this episode of Digital Dermpath Digest, Rajni Mandal, MD, a dermatopathologist at PathologyWatch, discusses distinct features of steatocystoma and how to identify it.

What Is Steatocystoma?

Occurring mainly in teenagers and young adults, steatocystoma is a benign and rare cyst that originates in the hair follicle or sebaceous duct, where the sebaceous gland drains into the hair follicle. When incised, a steatocystoma, often referred to as a sebaceous cyst, will secrete a thick, oily, yellowish fluid, and the area collapses when sectioned. 

Signs Below the Surface

But what’s happening below the skin’s surface that makes a steatocystoma so unique? 

“Viewed under a digital viewer, the multiplex variant of steatocystoma can be seen with keratin type 17 mutation,” explains Mandal.

The most notable symptom is the cyst’s epidermal lining that has a “red roof” or a “shark tooth” cuticle appearance devoid of a granular layer. “Sebaceous glands also appear in the cyst wall,” says Mandal. 

Though the cysts grow slowly, most patients desire to have them removed to avoid infection and discomfort should the cyst become inflamed or burst.

To learn more about this skin condition and other common diseases, join us for each episode of Digital Dermpath Digest right here on pathologywatch.com.

Identifying a Proliferating Pilar Cyst 

Images shown are not intended to be used for the diagnosis or treatment of a disease or condition.

Consider this: An elderly female patient presents with a nodule on her scalp, which has recently grown in size. It currently measures 10 cm in diameter and is ulcerated. What features would you look for in order to diagnose it as a proliferating pilar cyst?

In this episode of Digital Dermatopathology Digest, Rajni Mandal, MD, dermatopathologist at PathologyWatch, explains the characteristics of proliferating pilar cysts. 

“Proliferating pilar cysts are most commonly seen in adult women in the scalp,” Mandal says. “Most cases arise from a pre-existing pilar cyst, due to unknown triggers.”

In the video, Mandal goes on to identify the defining features of two categories of proliferating pilar cysts: 

Benign Proliferating Pilar Cyst

Cyst epithelium proliferates within the center of the cyst, giving it a “rolls and scrolls” appearance. The proliferating cells are trichilemmal, with small nuclei having smooth nuclear contours and a uniform chromatin pattern. The cyst lining has no granular layer, with abrupt dense, compact, pink keratin formation.

Malignant Proliferating Pilar Cyst

Also known as trichilemmal carcinoma, malignant proliferating pilar cysts differ from the benign version in key ways. In addition to the above characteristics, malignant cysts show cell crowding and cellular atypia (i.e., nuclei of varying size and shape). These cysts display mitotic activity, infiltrative growth, and cytologic atypia.

Whether you’re in residency, studying for board exams, or a practicing dermatologist looking to stay sharp, the Digital Dermatopathology Digest video series is your informational and convenient source for dermatopathology review. Find the full series here.