Clinicopathological correlation is the thought process that combines both gross and microscopic information to determine the most probable diagnosis. Being captivated by seeing the clinical image and pathology slide side by side is a common sensation for physicians feeling drawn to dermatology. This marriage of clinical and pathologic findings is also fundamental to resident and continuing medical education for dermatologists.

Clinicopathological correlation helps to confirm clinical suspicions and to provide more information in more obscure clinical cases. A nine-year study of nearly 4,000 skin biopsy specimens reported that 23.2 percent of the pathological diagnoses were inconsistent with the clinical diagnoses, suggesting room for diagnostic accuracy improvement. 

Studies suggest that improved clinical and pathologic correlation can help bridge that gap. By reviewing your own biopsy slides, providing accurate clinical information to your pathologist, and correlating together on challenging cases, your dermatology practice can continue to give patients the quality care they deserve.

Back to Your Roots: Reviewing Biopsy Slides

While only one out of five dermatologists reportedly read their own slides, most dermatologists prefer to review their slides. Dermatologists also receive significant training in dermatopathology during residency, more than twice that of their general pathology colleagues, and dermatology journals include more articles on dermatopathology. While avoiding the liability of reading their slides, many dermatologists enjoy keeping up their skills, confirming their clinical findings, or obtaining additional information needed to secure a diagnosis.

However, the traditional dermatopathology workflow may prevent dermatologists from reading or reviewing their own slides. Less than 25 percent of dermatologists have an in-house lab; if sending to an outside lab, it can take up to two weeks to turn around slides and even results. By using a lab that utilizes a digital pathology workflow, like PathologyWatch, dermatologists have quicker and easier access to review their own pathology slides or those of their colleagues, providing helpful information when planning surgical excisions or Mohs procedures, for example. 

Don’t Rule Out the Dermatopathology Requisition

Research studies emphasize the importance of clinical information in making accurate pathologic diagnoses, particularly in dermatopathology. In a recent Dialogues in Dermatology podcast, an important study was reviewed, indicating that dermatopathologic diagnostic accuracy is 53 percent when no clinical information is provided; accuracy improves to 78 percent when information is provided. Another study emphasized the importance of continued correlation in difficult cases, noting that repeat biopsy with additional CPC improved the concordance of clinical and pathologic diagnoses further. 

Providing dermoscopic images and essential diagnostic criteria for melanoma—like size, partial or complete biopsy, and evolution of a lesion—can also influence the pathologic diagnosis, likely resulting in improved patient outcomes. Dermatologists are particularly well-trained in providing helpful information on their requisition forms.

Tips on communicating effectively with the lab include having clinicians (rather than medical assistants) complete (or dictate) findings on the requisition, providing a helpful list of differential diagnoses, and giving other relevant clinical information and photographs. 

The Power of a Simple Phone Call

Lastly, in challenging cases, or simply where vital information was left out, a quick text or phone call with an experienced dermatopathologist can be invaluable in clinching the diagnosis. 

Sometimes you may find that important clinical information, such as a genetic disease or patient age, is left off the requisition, potentially skewing a pathologic diagnosis. This critical information needs to be passed on to the consultant, just as key clinical information from a patient may help in assuring your clinical diagnosis. 

If a dermatologist reads their own slides, consulting with a network of expert dermatopathologists like PathologyWatch on difficult cases can improve diagnostic accuracy.

While physicians are often pressed for time in the clinic, taking time to review pathology slides, providing accurate information to your dermatopathology lab, and interacting with consultants directly to make important clinicopathological correlations will ultimately result in time savings and better patient outcomes by making an accurate diagnosis.