A recent article discussed how the clinical pathology labs of the Department of Pathology of the University of Michigan Health System are now moving into new quarters in a former Pfizer research complex that had been purchased by the University of Michigan (see: U-M's North Campus Research Complex renovation plans move forward). Here are some of the relevant details:
In total, approximately 186,000 gross square feet of space will be renovated to provide a space for most of the U-M Health System's clinical pathology activities inside four buildings, renovating another 47,000 square feet of existing space....The new facility will occupy four vacant buildings at the NCRC, less than three miles from the main U-M medical campus. It will give U-M's clinical testing teams facilities that can continue giving patients and doctors high-quality test results they seek, faster and with higher reliability.
One of the most interesting questions prompted by such a move for the UM pathology department is whether moving the CP labs some three miles from the hospital will have a negative effect on patient care and departmental operations. I will put aside for now questions of whether the distant clinical pathology faculty can function optimally from an organizational and academic sense. We are all well aware of the value of having clinical pathologists consult with clinicians about lab test ordering and the interpretation of test results. I have no quibble with this idea. The question arises, however, as to whether such consultations need to take place physically or whether they can be accomplished remotely by simple voice communications via cell phones or more elaborate telepresence.
I recently had a long conversation with a senior employee of one of the largest IT companies in the world with employees scattered across long distances. The normal and customary way for the employees of the company to work is with telepresence. The company has deployed apps such that the company experts in any area can be accessed and integrated into any conversation when the need arises for their input. Clearly there is some skill involved in adroitly managing simultaneous conversations but this is often the case in busy patient care units now.
Therefore, the question at hand is not whether clinical pathologists at the University of Michigan with their labs some three miles distant from the hospital can and should be consulted via telepresence by clinicians when needed. The most important factor is whether the pathology leadership and the hospital executives have an interest in deploying the technology necessary to enable the broad use of telepresence for hospital consultations. By the way, such changes are not solely relevant for clinical pathologists but all consultations that occur daily in an academic medical center, even for physicians who may be a short stroll way from the inpatient beds. In the same way that e-consultation are critical for the future of ambulatory care, telepresence is curtail for increasing the efficiency of inpatient care.