Sometimes, seeing is believing.

This is never more true than when discussing a treatment plan for a medical condition. “Communicating the importance of medical evidence and a balanced representation of options is the first step toward accelerating patient engagement in shared decision making,” concluded the groundbreaking discussion paper Communicating with Patients on Health Care Evidence.

This research found that 80 percent of patients want their provider to tell them the full truth about their diagnosis even though it may be unpleasant. Around 70 percent of people surveyed want their provider to share the risks associated with each option. But how can a healthcare provider share clear, definitive information for their patients who are often unfamiliar with terminology and find it difficult to fully comprehend the ramifications of the diagnosis? 

The answer is simple: Provide a visual aid. 

The aforementioned study published by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies examined the effects of using visual aids as part of the patient’s decision-making on treatment plan options. Researchers found that when patients are given decision aids—such as educational booklets, DVDs, or interactive tools—to help them make treatment choices, they are more knowledgeable and satisfied with their care. 

If visual aids prove beneficial for patients to better understand their diagnoses and the necessary treatment plan, then let’s discuss the three exciting ways digital pathology acts as an effective decision aid for patient care and heightens the quality of care delivered. 

1. Encourages Patient Engagement

At PathologyWatch, we utilize the collaborative capabilities of digital technology as it provides full access to a patient’s test slide through our EMR. And that information can also be shared with a patient to assist in the decision-making process for designing a treatment plan. 

In many cases, patients are better able to understand their diagnoses when they can see the pathology associated with their cases. This isn’t just about delivering information to a patient. Instead, as our dermatology clients attest, it invites a personal conversation that centers around a patient’s concerns and goals for treatment. 

Typically practiced in breast cancer cases, for example, shared decision-making (SDM) provides a collaborative strategy for a patient and the healthcare provider to discuss medical options. Most consumers (95 percent) believe it is important that doctors tell them about the results of medical research when making treatment decisions. By pairing the patient’s values and priorities with the physician’s expertise, both parties can talk about the best possible option.

2. Provides Faster Results

Experts predict that the global number of new cancer cases will rise by 70 percent over the next two decades. This means pathology labs will need to find ways to accommodate the increase in demand through cost-saving efficiency and diagnoses. 

“Digitizing your workflow is not simply a question of upgrading your lab’s hardware and IT,” says Ivo Van den Berghe, MD. “It’s also about rethinking your ways of working. . . . Digital pathology replaces the subjective nature of manual slide inspection under the microscope.”

Digital transformation also creates more efficiency. “In the old situation, a lab assistant would have to manually sort and archive 300 tissue samples each day,” Van den Berghe says. “Now the samples are sorted and archived automatically. This saves our lab assistants a lot of time.” Such expediency means doctors can meet with their patients sooner, armed with visual test results, and discuss more timely treatment plan options that can improve the recovery rate. 

3. Provides a Comprehensive Perspective

In cases where the diagnosis involves a rare condition, digital pathology can make it possible for doctors to tap into expertise available throughout the world for a comprehensive understanding of an irregular case. “We’re connecting with laboratories worldwide to get a better understanding of rare tumors and how to treat them,” Van den Berghe says. “Digital pathology enhances clinical confidence in our findings by delivering the right result the first time.”

Patients trust their doctor to deliver accurate results. With digital pathology, they can get their results quickly, participate in shared medical decisions, and potentially benefit from a more comprehensive perspective of their diagnosis and ideal treatment options.