Various types of pathology networks have evolved over the years and new ones will continue to be created. For now, most of them will probably focus on the exchange of digital pathology files for surgical pathology consultations. Such networks will serve U.S. hospitals and also enable consultations across countries. Diagnostic networks can be agnostic in the sense that they will accommodate all users or proprietary, which is to say reserved for use by a single company. An example of the latter are the networks developed by the teleradiology companies (see: Digital Pathology vs. Digital Radiology: A Broad Divide; Tighter Integration of Nighthawk Reports into Hospital EMRs and RISs). Here's an excerpt from a recent press release about a pathology network launched by an AP-LIS vendor, PathCentral (see: PathCentral Debuts Digital Pathology Network, Online Information Exchange Open to Global Pathology Community):
PathCentral...introduces the PathCentral Pathology Network, ...a comprehensive online information exchange and digital consultation forum. The Network enables physicians to upload case files using digital images for pathologists to review and render critical consulting diagnoses on a global and a domestic real-time basis....[According to the PathCentral CEO], the Pathology Network not only enables us to electronically connect a broad base of users, it helps address the global shortage of highly qualified pathology consultants by bringing their expertise to all corners of the globe. As a truly open network, it will uniquely encourage participation and feedback from everyone who accesses it. In terms of scanning technology and imaging software, the Network is agnostic and designed to be nonexclusive—that is, open to all users regardless of location or consulting institution. The Network seeks to connect the world's pathologists, incorporating tools from social media, making it an ideal forum for pathologists to send and perform consults, create connections, post information, share cases, ask questions, and expand professional relationships....In January, China-based Kindstar Globalgene Technology Inc became the first international organization to sign on to the Network as a sender and a user. Through its participation, Kindstar will be able to access US pathologists and facilitate pathology consultations for more than 3,300 hospitals throughout China. Kindstar and its clients will gain access to hundreds of American pathologists at leading US medical institutions, including many of the top 50 cancer centers, delivering patient diagnoses to physicians in China via the cloud.
Although the main function of the PathCentral digital pathology network will be the exchange of surgical pathology images, I view this as an early stage on the development curve. Such images will soon be packaged with patient biomarker results as well as genomic tumor analyses. The International Genomics Consortium has recently announced the formation of a non-profit company with the University of Michigan Department of Pathology called Paradigm. The goal of this new lab will be to develop tailored treatments for patients based on their genetic makeup as well as that of their tumors. “Paradigm builds on our understanding of the relationship between disease-causing genes and how they affect a patient’s sensitivity to specific treatments,” according to Robert Penny, CEO and co-founder of Paradigm and International Genomics. “In essence, we look for the malfunctions in the cancer and match them with the best therapies.”
The rendering of surgical pathology diagnoses by American pathologists is a component of what is now commonly called reverse medical tourism but with a twist (see: Reverse Medical Tourism Points Up Pluses and Minuses of U.S. Healthcare). The twist is that the diagnoses are being rendered on the basis of the digital pathology images of tumors transmitted on networks like the one developed by PathCentral. The patients from abroad are not traveling to the U.S. for diagnosis but the images of their tumors are. Such diagnoses will be even more useful when accompanied by genomic analysis and therapeutic recommendations for cancer treatment generated by labs such as Paradigm.