Dermatology clinics carry the responsibility of providing patients with correct test results from dermatopathology laboratories. With 9,500 Americans diagnosed with skin cancer every day, the weight of managing pathology orders and results is critical to ensure every patient’s diagnosis is received and shared in an organized, accurate, and timely manner.

Experienced dermatologists know there’s more involved in processing pathology results than sending out request forms and waiting for results to return. By being proactive, defining the lab’s responsibilities, evaluating paper and electronic workflows, and exploring the advantages of an EMR interface, you can ensure your dermatology clinic provides optimal quality of care to your patients.

The Clinic’s Responsibility

Patients hold their dermatology clinics accountable for sharing biopsy results, which means it is up to the providers and their staff to receive, organize, and deliver pathology results directly to patients. While it takes an average of 12 years of schooling and training to become a dermatologist, it only takes a few moments to lose a patient’s trust.

Labs return their reports to clinics through various channels, including fax, web portal, courier, and mail. The dermatology practices keep track of these results and share them with their patients. Proactively opening the communication lines between the clinic and the lab is the best way to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. By checking in with the lab frequently to follow up on cases, a dermatologist can stay on top of any delays or missing reports while answering questions that may help to produce more definitive diagnoses. 

According to Tammie Ferringer, MD, open communication between the clinic and the lab is “totally appropriate and should occur.” The dermatopathologist advises, “Calling is absolutely acceptable, and it is usually easier to get ahold of a dermatopathologist than a lot of dermatologists because they’re seeing patients constantly.” 

The Lab’s Responsibility

The dermatopathology lab is obligated to deliver case results and alert the clinic of any unexpected or urgent diagnoses. Labs deliver their diagnoses using documented communications, keeping records of faxes, correspondence, and deliveries. However, the lab’s obligation stops once the clinic receives the results. The dermatology practice coordinates and shares the results with their patients. 

Paper Workflow

Dermatology clinics have the option of sending requests and receiving diagnoses via traditional paper or electronically. Even though 70.2 percent of dermatologists report using an EHR in their practice, many still prefer to use paper when communicating with labs. 

One disadvantage of paper is the task of matching outgoing orders with incoming results. With some dermatology practices seeing 40–50 patients per day, managing a paper workflow can create a bottleneck and impact the time to deliver results to patients. 

Current events also point towards electronic records as a safer solution for clinics to consider. “We’re in the era of social distancing, so it’s time to embrace EMRs and other technologies that make it safer for us to do our jobs,” notes Mark D. Kaufmann, MD, FAAD. “This will help us be responsible in the COVID-19 era, as well as create new efficiencies in terms of billing and coding.”

Interfacing the EMR

Working with a lab that interfaces electronically with a dermatology clinic’s EMR introduces a new level of streamlined reliability. In an instant, office staff can see which orders are still outstanding and which diagnoses are ready to be reviewed and shared with patients, with some interfaces using color codes to flag new or urgent results.

In addition to simplifying sorting, searching, and managing requests, an EMR interface, like the one provided by PathologyWatch, includes immediate access to whole-slide images and access to academic-level dermatopathologists. PathologyWatch makes it easy to pull up digital images and review them independently or with the patient.

Your dermatology clinic moves quickly to ensure your patients receive accurate results with an acceptable turnaround time. If you take time to evaluate your practice role, understand the lab’s obligation, compare paper and electronic workflows, and consider an EMR interface, you’ll find ways to improve the management of pending specimen lists and report distribution to serve your patients better.