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Should Radiology ‘Integrate’ With Pathology?

September 6, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Practice Management
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Should radiology merge, or “integrate,” or otherwise join forces with pathology?

An article published online Wednesday in the open-access BMC Medicine argues for integration. The authors seem to have in mind more of a close collaboration than a merger. It’s hard to be sure because the article is written in bureaucratese. For example: “Structured reporting that includes the use of controlled vocabularies is required to enable consistent information content within both domains and better automate concept extraction and database population.”

(Clarity seldom flows from government offices with names too long to fit on a business card. The lead author works for the Office of Science and Data Policy, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.)

Anyway, the article concludes:

Despite technical challenges that limit integration within current workflow models, the opportunity for pathology-radiology integration to improve patient care is great, and more importantly, the tools to achieve this end exist.

Wait; the fact that it CAN be done is more important than whether it SHOULD be done?

Sigh.

Despite the infelicitous wording, the article does make a legitimate case for integrating the workflows and data systems of radiology and pathology. And of course it’s not a new idea. As the article mentions, “Several studies have identified needs for the integration of mammography and pathology reporting in the setting of specific breast cancer diagnosis.”

The article also discusses the benefits of integration for diagnosis of lung disease, bone and soft-tissue disease, and vascular disease.

More generally, it argues that standardized terminology, merged databases, cooperative research, and other results of integration would improve patient care. It notes some moves in those directions, such as the emergence of discipline-wide standards in both radiology and pathology. And the article includes a flow chart that shows how an integrated workflow might work.

The article is meant to spark debate. In that, it seems likely to succeed. At less than 10 pages (plus the flow chart), it’s definitely worth a read.

Related seminar: National Diagnostic Imaging Symposium™

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