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Live Notes and Conference Coverage in Real Time. COVID19 And The Impact on Cancer Patients Town Hall with Leading Oncologists; April 4, 2020

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, PhD 

@StephenJWillia2

UPDATED 5/11/2020 see below

This update is the video from the COVID-19 Series 4.

UPDATED 4/08/2020 see below

The Second in a Series of Virtual Town Halls with Leading Oncologist on Cancer Patient Care during COVID-19 Pandemic: What you need to know

The second virtual Town Hall with Leading International Oncologist, discussing the impact that the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak has on cancer care and patient care issues will be held this Saturday April 4, 2020.  This Town Hall Series is led by Dr. Roy Herbst and Dr. Hossain Borghaei who will present a panel of experts to discuss issues pertaining to oncology practice as well as addressing physicians and patients concerns surrounding the risk COVID-19 presents to cancer care.  Some speakers on the panel represent oncologist from France and Italy, and will give their views of the situation in these countries.

 

Speakers include:

Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, Ensign Professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology) and Professor of Pharmacology; Chief of Medical Oncology, Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital; Associate Cancer Center Director for Translational Research, Yale Cancer Center

Hossain Borghaei, DO, MS , Chief of Thoracic Medical Oncology and Director of Lung Cancer Risk Assessment, Fox Chase Cancer Center

Giuseppe Curigliano, MD, PhD, University of Milan and Head of Phase I Division at IEO, European Institute of Oncology

Paolo Ascierto, MD National Tumor Institute Fondazione G. Pascale, Medical oncologist from National Cancer Institute of Naples, Italy

Fabrice Barlesi, MD, PhD, Thoracic oncologist Cofounder Marseille Immunopole Coordinator #ThePioneeRproject, Institut Gustave Roussy

Jack West, MD, Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, City of Hope California

Rohit Kumar, MD Department of Medicine, Section of Pulmonary Medicine, Fox Chase Cancer Center

Christopher Manley, MD Director, Interventional Pulmonology Fox Chase Cancer Center

Hope Rugo, MD FASCO Division of Hematology and Oncology, University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Harriet Kluger, MD Professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology); Director, Yale SPORE in Skin Cancer, Yale Cancer Center

Marianne J. Davies, DNP, MSN, RN, APRN, CNS-BC, ACNP-BC, AOCNP Assistant Professor of Nursing, Yale University

Barbara Burtness, MD Professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology);  Head and Neck Cancers Program, Yale University

 

@pharma_BI and @StephenJWillia2 will be Tweeting out live notes using #CancerCareandCOVID19

Live Notes

Part I: Practice Management

Dr. Jack West from City of Hope talked about telemedicine:  Coordination of the patient experience, which used to be face to face now moved to a telemedicine alternative.  For example a patient doing well on personalized therapy, many patients are well suited for a telemedicine experience.  A benefit for both patient and physician.

Dr. Rohit Kumar: In small cancer hospitals, can be a bit difficult to determine which patient needs to come in and which do not.  For outpatients testing for COVID is becoming very pertinent as these tests need to come back faster than it is currently.  For inpatients the issue is personal protection equipment.  They are starting to reuse masks after sterilization with dry heat.   Best to restructure the system of seeing patients and scheduling procedures.

Dr. Christopher Manley: hypoxia was an issue for COVID19 patients but seeing GI symptoms in 5% of patients.  Nebulizers have potential to aerosolize.  For patients in surgery prep room surgical masks are fine.  Ventilating these patients are a challenge as hypoxia a problem.  Myocarditis is a problem in some patients.  Diffuse encephalopathy and kidney problems are being seen. So Interleukin 6 (IL6) inhibitors are being used to reduce the cytokine storm presented in patients suffering from COVID19.

Dr. Hope Rugo from UCSF: Breast cancer treatment during this pandemic has been challenging, even though they don’t use too much immuno-suppressive drugs.  How we decide on timing of therapy and future visits is crucial.  For early stage breast cancer, neoadjuvant therapy is being used to delay surgeries.  Endocrine therapy is more often being used. In patients that need chemotherapy, they are using growth factor therapy according to current guidelines.  Although that growth factor therapy might antagonize some lung problems, there is less need for multiple visits.

For metastatic breast cancer,  high risk ER positive are receiving endocrine therapy and using telemedicine for followups.  For chemotherapy they are trying to reduce the schedules or frequency it is given. Clinical trials have been put on hold, mostly pharmokinetic studies are hard to carry out unless patients can come in, so as they are limiting patient visits they are putting these type of clinical studies on hold.

Dr. Harriet Kluger:  Melanoma community of oncologists gathered together two weeks ago to discuss guidelines and best practices during this pandemic.   The discussed that there is a lack of data on immunotherapy long term benefit and don’t know the effectiveness of neoadjuvant therapy.  She noted that many patients on BRAF inhibitors like Taflinar (dabrafenib)   or Zelboraf (vemurafenib) might get fevers as a side effect from these inhibitors and telling them to just monitor themselves and get tested if they want. Yale has also instituted a practice that, if a patient tests positive for COVID19, Yale wants 24 hours between the next patient visit to limit spread and decontaminate.

Marianne Davies:  Blood work is now being done at satellite sites to limit number of in person visits to Yale.  Usually they did biopsies to determine resistance to therapy but now relying on liquid biopsies (if insurance isn’t covering it they are working with patient to assist).  For mesothelioma they are dropping chemotherapy that is very immunosuppressive and going with maintenance pembrolizumab (Keytruda).  It is challenging in that COPD mimics the symptoms of COVID and patients are finding it difficult to get nebulizers at the pharmacy because of shortages; these patients that develop COPD are also worried they will not get the respirators they need because of rationing.

Dr. Barbara Burtness: Head and neck cancer.  Dr. Burtness stresses to patients that the survival rate now for HPV positive head and neck is much better and leaves patients with extra information on their individual cancers.  She also noted a registry or database that is being formed to track data on COVID in patients undergoing surgery  and can be found here at https://globalsurg.org/covidsurg/

About CovidSurg

  • There is an urgent need to understand the outcomes of COVID-19 infected patients who undergo surgery.
  • Capturing real-world data and sharing international experience will inform the management of this complex group of patients who undergo surgery throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, improving their clinical care.
  • CovidSurg has been designed by an international collaborating group of surgeons and anesthetists, with representation from Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Korea, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Dr. Burtness had noted that healthcare care workers are at high risk of COVID exposure during ear nose and throat (ENT) procedures as the coronavirus resides in the upper respiratory tract.  As for therapy for head and neck cancers, they are staying away from high dose cisplatin because of the nephrotoxicity seen with high dose cisplatin.  An alternative is carboplatin which generally you do not see nephrotoxicity as an adverse event (a weekly carboplatin).  Changing or increasing dose schedule (like 6 weeks Keytruda) helps reduce immunologic problems related to immunosupression and patients do not have to come in as often.

Italy and France

Dr. Paolo Ascierto:   with braf inhibitors, using in tablet form so patients can take from home.  Also they are moving chemo schedules for inpatients so longer dosing schedules.  Fever still a side effect from braf inhibitors and they require a swab to be performed to ascertain patient is COVID19 negative.  Also seeing pneumonitis as this is an adverse event from checkpoint inhibitors so looking at CT scans and nasal swab to determine if just side effect of I/O drugs or a COVID19 case.  He mentioned that their area is now doing okay with resources.

Dr. Guiseppe Curigliano mentioned about the redesign of the Italian health system with spokes and hubs of health care.  Spokes are generalized medicine while the hubs represent more specialized centers like CV hubs or cancer hubs.  So for instance, if a melanoma patient in a spoke area with COVID cases they will be referred to a hub.  He says they are doing better in his area

In the question and answer period, Dr. West mentioned that they are relaxing many HIPAA regulations concerning telemedicine.  There is a website on the Centers for Connective Health Policy that shows state by state policy on conducting telemedicine.   On immuno oncology therapy, many in the panel had many questions concerning the long term risk to COVID associated with this type of therapy.  Fabrice mentioned they try to postpone use of I/O and although Dr. Kluger said there was an idea floating around that PD1/PDL1 inhibitors could be used as a prophylactic agent more data was needed.

Please revisit this page as the recording of this Town Hall will be made available next week.

UPDATED 4/08/2020

Below find the LIVE RECORDING and TAKEAWAYS by the speakers

 

 
Town Hall Takeaways
 

Utilize Telehealth to Its Fullest Benefit

 

·       Patients doing well on targeted therapy or routine surveillance are well suited to telemedicine

·       Most patients are amenable to this, as it is more convenient for them and minimizes their exposure

·       A patient can speak to multiple specialists with an ease that was not previously possible

·       CMS has relaxed some rules to accommodate telehealth, though private insurers have not moved as quickly, and the Center for Connected Health Policy maintains a repository of current state-by-state regulations:  https://www.cchpca.org/

 

Practice Management Strategies

 

·       In the face of PPE shortages, N95 masks can be decontaminated using UV light, hydrogen peroxide, or autoclaving with dry heat; the masks can be returned to the original user until the masks are no longer suitable for use

·       For blood work or scans, the use of external satellite facilities should be explored

·       Keep pumps outside of the room so nurses can attend to them quickly

·       Limit the use of nebulizers, CPAPs, and BiPAPs due to risk of aerosolization

 

Pool Our Knowledge for Care of COVID Patients

 

·       There is now a global registry for tracking surgeries in COVID-positive cancer patients:  https://globalsurg.org/cancercovidsurg/

·       Caution is urged in the presence of cardiac complications, as ventilated patients may appear to improve, only to suffer severe myocarditis and cardiac arrest following extubation

·       When the decision is made to intubate, intubate quickly, as less invasive methods result in aerosolization and increased risks to staff

 

Study the Lessons of Europe

 

·       The health care system in Italy has been reorganized into “spokes” and “hubs,” with a number of cancer hubs; if there is a cancer patient in a spoke hospital with many COVID patients, this patient may be referred to a hub hospital

·       Postpone adjuvant treatments whenever possible

·       Oral therapies, which can be managed at home, are preferred over therapies that must be administered in a healthcare setting

·       Pneumonitis patients without fevers may be treated with steroids, but nasal swab testing is needed in the presence of concomitant fever

·       Any staff who are not needed on site should be working from home, and rotating schedules can be used to keep people healthy

·       Devise an annual epidemic control plan now that we have new lessons from COVID

 

We Must Be Advocates for Our Cancer Patients

 

·       Be proactive with other healthcare providers on behalf of patients with a good prognosis

·       Consider writing letters for cancer patients for inclusion into their chart, or addendums on notes, then encourage patients to print these out, or give it to them during their visit

·       The potential exists for a patient to be physiologically stable on a ventilator, but intolerant of decannulation; early discussions are necessary to determine reasonable expectations of care

·       Be sure to anticipate a second wave of patients, comprised of cancer patients for whom treatments and surgery have been delayed!

 

Tumor-Specific Learnings

 

Ø  Strategies in Breast Cancer:

·       In patients with early-stage disease, promote the use of neoadjuvant therapy where possible to delay the need for surgery

·       For patients with metastatic disease in the palliative setting, transition to less frequent chemotherapy dosing if possible

·       While growth factors may pose a risk in interstitial lung disease, new guidelines are emerging

 

Ø  Strategies in Melanoma:

·       The melanoma community has released specific recommendations for treatment during the pandemic:  https://www.nccn.org/covid-19/pdf/Melanoma.pdf

·       The use of BRAF/MEK inhibitors can cause fevers that are drug-related, and access to an alternate clinic where patients can be assessed is a useful resource

 

Ø  Strategies in Lung Cancer:

·       For patients who are stable on an oral, targeted therapy, telehealth check-in is a good option

·       For patients who progress on targeted therapies, increased use of liquid biopsies when appropriate can minimize use of bronchoscopy suites and other resources

·       For patients on pembrolizumab monotherapy, consider switching to a six-week dosing of 400 mg

·       Many lung cancer patients worry about “discrimination” should they develop a COVID infection; it is important to support patients and help manage expectations and concerns

 

 

UPDATED 5/11/2020

Townhall on COVID-19 and Cancer Care with Leading Oncologists Series 4

Addressing the Challenges of Cancer Care in the Community

 

 

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Twitter is Becoming a Powerful Tool in Science and Medicine

 Curator: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

Updated 4/2016

Life-cycle of Science 2

A recent Science article (Who are the science stars of Twitter?; Sept. 19, 2014) reported the top 50 scientists followed on Twitter. However, the article tended to focus on the use of Twitter as a means to develop popularity, a sort of “Science Kardashian” as they coined it. So the writers at Science developed a “Kardashian Index (K-Index) to determine scientists following and popularity on Twitter.

Now as much buzz Kim Kardashian or a Perez Hilton get on social media, their purpose is solely for entertainment and publicity purposes, the Science sort of fell flat in that it focused mainly on the use of Twitter as a metric for either promotional or public outreach purposes. A notable scientist was mentioned in the article, using Twitter feed to gauge the receptiveness of his presentation. In addition, relying on Twitter for effective public discourse of science is problematic as:

  • Twitter feeds are rapidly updated and older feeds quickly get buried within the “Twittersphere” = LIMITED EXPOSURE TIMEFRAME
  • Short feeds may not provide the access to appropriate and understandable scientific information (The Science Communication Trap) which is explained in The Art of Communicating Science: traps, tips and tasks for the modern-day scientist. “The challenge of clearly communicating the intended scientific message to the public is not insurmountable but requires an understanding of what works and what does not work.” – from Heidi Roop, G.-Martinez-Mendez and K. Mills

However, as highlighted below, Twitter, and other social media platforms are being used in creative ways to enhance the research, medical, and bio investment collaborative, beyond a simple news-feed.  And the power of Twitter can be attributed to two simple features

  1. Ability to organize – through use of the hashtag (#) and handle (@), Twitter assists in the very important task of organizing, indexing, and ANNOTATING content and conversations. A very great article on Why the Hashtag in Probably the Most Powerful Tool on Twitter by Vanessa Doctor explains how hashtags and # search may be as popular as standard web-based browser search. Thorough annotation is crucial for any curation process, which are usually in the form of database tags or keywords. The use of # and @ allows curators to quickly find, index and relate disparate databases to link annotated information together. The discipline of scientific curation requires annotation to assist in the digital preservation, organization, indexing, and access of data and scientific & medical literature. For a description of scientific curation methodologies please see the following links:

Please read the following articles on CURATION

The Methodology of Curation for Scientific Research Findings

Power of Analogy: Curation in Music, Music Critique as a Curation and Curation of Medical Research Findings – A Comparison

Science and Curation: The New Practice of Web 2.0

  1. Information Analytics

Multiple analytic software packages have been made available to analyze information surrounding Twitter feeds, including Twitter feeds from #chat channels one can set up to cover a meeting, product launch etc.. Some of these tools include:

Twitter Analytics – measures metrics surrounding Tweets including retweets, impressions, engagement, follow rate, …

Twitter Analytics – Hashtags.org – determine most impactful # for your Tweets For example, meeting coverage of bioinvestment conferences or startup presentations using #startup generates automatic retweeting by Startup tweetbot @StartupTweetSF.

 

  1. Tweet Sentiment Analytics

Examples of Twitter Use

A. Scientific Meeting Coverage

In a paper entitled Twitter Use at a Family Medicine Conference: Analyzing #STFM13 authors Ranit Mishori, MD, Frendan Levy, MD, and Benjamin Donvan analyzed the public tweets from the 2013 Society of Teachers of Family Medicine (STFM) conference bearing the meeting-specific hashtag #STFM13. Thirteen percent of conference attendees (181 users) used the #STFM13 to share their thoughts on the meeting (1,818 total tweets) showing a desire for social media interaction at conferences but suggesting growth potential in this area. As we have also seen, the heaviest volume of conference-tweets originated from a small number of Twitter users however most tweets were related to session content.

However, as the authors note, although it is easy to measure common metrics such as number of tweets and retweets, determining quality of engagement from tweets would be important for gauging the value of Twitter-based social-media coverage of medical conferences.

Thea authors compared their results with similar analytics generated by the HealthCare Hashtag Project, a project and database of medically-related hashtag use, coordinated and maintained by the company Symplur.  Symplur’s database includes medical and scientific conference Twitter coverage but also Twitter usuage related to patient care. In this case the database was used to compare meeting tweets and hashtag use with the 2012 STFM conference.

These are some of the published journal articles that have employed Symplur (www.symplur.com) data in their research of Twitter usage in medical conferences.

B. Twitter Usage for Patient Care and Engagement

Although the desire of patients to use and interact with their physicians over social media is increasing, along with increasing health-related social media platforms and applications, there are certain obstacles to patient-health provider social media interaction, including lack of regulatory framework as well as database and security issues. Some of the successes and issues of social media and healthcare are discussed in the post Can Mobile Health Apps Improve Oral-Chemotherapy Adherence? The Benefit of Gamification.

However there is also a concern if social media truly engages the patient and improves patient education. In a study of Twitter communications by breast cancer patients Tweeting about breast cancer, authors noticed Tweeting was a singular event. The majority of tweets did not promote any specific preventive behavior. The authors concluded “Twitter is being used mostly as a one-way communication tool.” (Using Twitter for breast cancer prevention: an analysis of breast cancer awareness month. Thackeray R1, Burton SH, Giraud-Carrier C, Rollins S, Draper CR. BMC Cancer. 2013;13:508).

In addition a new poll by Harris Interactive and HealthDay shows one third of patients want some mobile interaction with their physicians.

Some papers cited in Symplur’s HealthCare Hashtag Project database on patient use of Twitter include:

C. Twitter Use in Pharmacovigilance to Monitor Adverse Events

Pharmacovigilance is the systematic detection, reporting, collecting, and monitoring of adverse events pre- and post-market of a therapeutic intervention (drug, device, modality e.g.). In a Cutting Edge Information Study, 56% of pharma companies databases are an adverse event channel and more companies are turning to social media to track adverse events (in Pharmacovigilance Teams Turn to Technology for Adverse Event Reporting Needs). In addition there have been many reports (see Digital Drug Safety Surveillance: Monitoring Pharmaceutical Products in Twitter) that show patients are frequently tweeting about their adverse events.

There have been concerns with using Twitter and social media to monitor for adverse events. For example FDA funded a study where a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and other academic centers examined more than 60,000 tweets, of which 4,401 were manually categorized as resembling adverse events and compared with the FDA pharmacovigilance databases. Problems associated with such social media strategy were inability to obtain extra, needed information from patients and difficulty in separating the relevant Tweets from irrelevant chatter.  The UK has launched a similar program called WEB-RADR to determine if monitoring #drug_reaction could be useful for monitoring adverse events. Many researchers have found the adverse-event related tweets “noisy” due to varied language but had noticed many people do understand some principles of causation including when adverse event subsides after discontinuing the drug.

However Dr. Clark Freifeld, Ph.D., from Boston University and founder of the startup Epidemico, feels his company has the algorithms that can separate out the true adverse events from the junk. According to their web site, their algorithm has high accuracy when compared to the FDA database. Dr. Freifeld admits that Twitter use for pharmacovigilance purposes is probably a starting point for further follow-up, as each patient needs to fill out the four-page forms required for data entry into the FDA database.

D. Use of Twitter in Big Data Analytics

Published on Aug 28, 2012

http://blogs.ischool.berkeley.edu/i29…

Course: Information 290. Analyzing Big Data with Twitter
School of Information
UC Berkeley

Lecture 1: August 23, 2012

Course description:
How to store, process, analyze and make sense of Big Data is of increasing interest and importance to technology companies, a wide range of industries, and academic institutions. In this course, UC Berkeley professors and Twitter engineers will lecture on the most cutting-edge algorithms and software tools for data analytics as applied to Twitter microblog data. Topics will include applied natural language processing algorithms such as sentiment analysis, large scale anomaly detection, real-time search, information diffusion and outbreak detection, trend detection in social streams, recommendation algorithms, and advanced frameworks for distributed computing. Social science perspectives on analyzing social media will also be covered.

This is a hands-on project course in which students are expected to form teams to complete intensive programming and analytics projects using the real-world example of Twitter data and code bases. Engineers from Twitter will help advise student projects, and students will have the option of presenting their final project presentations to an audience of engineers at the headquarters of Twitter in San Francisco (in addition to on campus). Project topics include building on existing infrastructure tools, building Twitter apps, and analyzing Twitter data. Access to data will be provided.

Other posts on this site on USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND TWITTER IN HEALTHCARE and Conference Coverage include:

Methodology for Conference Coverage using Social Media: 2014 MassBio Annual Meeting 4/3 – 4/4 2014, Royal Sonesta Hotel, Cambridge, MA

Strategy for Event Joint Promotion: 14th ANNUAL BIOTECH IN EUROPE FORUM For Global Partnering & Investment 9/30 – 10/1/2014 • Congress Center Basel – SACHS Associates, London

REAL TIME Cancer Conference Coverage: A Novel Methodology for Authentic Reporting on Presentations and Discussions launched via Twitter.com @ The 2nd ANNUAL Sachs Cancer Bio Partnering & Investment Forum in Drug Development, 19th March 2014 • New York Academy of Sciences • USA

PCCI’s 7th Annual Roundtable “Crowdfunding for Life Sciences: A Bridge Over Troubled Waters?” May 12 2014 Embassy Suites Hotel, Chesterbrook PA 6:00-9:30 PM

CRISPR-Cas9 Discovery and Development of Programmable Genome Engineering – Gabbay Award Lectures in Biotechnology and Medicine – Hosted by Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center, 10/27/14 3:30PM Brandeis University, Gerstenzang 121

Tweeting on 14th ANNUAL BIOTECH IN EUROPE FORUM For Global Partnering & Investment 9/30 – 10/1/2014 • Congress Center Basel – SACHS Associates, London

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/press-coverage/

Statistical Analysis of Tweet Feeds from the 14th ANNUAL BIOTECH IN EUROPE FORUM For Global Partnering & Investment 9/30 – 10/1/2014 • Congress Center Basel – SACHS Associates, London

1st Pitch Life Science- Philadelphia- What VCs Really Think of your Pitch

What VCs Think about Your Pitch? Panel Summary of 1st Pitch Life Science Philly

How Social Media, Mobile Are Playing a Bigger Part in Healthcare

Can Mobile Health Apps Improve Oral-Chemotherapy Adherence? The Benefit of Gamification.

Medical Applications and FDA regulation of Sensor-enabled Mobile Devices: Apple and the Digital Health Devices Market

E-Medical Records Get A Mobile, Open-Sourced Overhaul By White House Health Design Challenge Winners

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Reported to Larry Bernstein, MD, FCAP

The Unseen Pathologist: Why You Might Want To Meet Yours

Dr. Michael Misialek

Aug 7, 2013
http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2013/08/meet-your-pathologist#more-33236
https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2013-10/11/The_Unseen_Pathologist

Dr. Michael Misialek is Associate Chair of Pathology at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Assistant Clinical Professor of Pathology at Tufts University School of Medicine.

Screen-shot-2013-08-06-at-4.33.03-PM-140x140  Dr. Michael Misialek

“How much time do I have?” was the first question Mrs. C asked.

She had called me in a panic. Earlier in the week, I had diagnosed her with breast cancer. She called me after learning the bad news from her radiologist. A whirlwind of appointments with oncology, surgery and radiation oncology ensued, overwhelming her with information.

I knew her case — these cells and her pathology — well, having just presented the pathology at our weekly breast cancer conference.

I struggled to reassure her, telling her that treatment has advanced and catching it early was very encouraging.

But there was silence. I envisioned her on the other end of the line, nervous fingers playing with the phone cord. Finally she said, “It would give me great comfort to meet with you since you are a pathologist. I would like to review my slides along with you.”

I am a pathologist. I spend more time studying your cells and developing a diagnosis then your other doctors spend with you. For particularly tough cases, I ask my partners for help, even send images for another opinion to my academic specialist colleagues, who may in turn show them to still more pathologists.

Many eyes have likely seen your cells. Yet, I am often unseen by you, maybe even unknown. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can request a meeting with me, you can ask — as Mrs. C did — to review your pathology, whatever the diagnosis, benign or malignant. No request is too small.

Will the health care system allow for this? Won’t it resist? My colleagues from other specialties have embraced it. But currently we cannot bill for these patient consults. That’s part of my reason for writing this: We pathologists are advocating to make our consultations with patients billable, like a patient’s consultations with any other specialists. Pathologists are taking on new roles, and the system needs to change to reflect the value of pathology.

My job is not just about diagnosing cancers. Anything that is biopsied, cut out of your body, scraped off, smeared, aspirated, coughed up, excreted or cultured will pass under my microscope.

I discuss treatment plans with every kind of doctor: primary care, surgeons, oncologists, gynecologists, gastroenterologists and more. Pathologists are quarterbacks, calling each play, just as in football.

With nearly 80% of medical care dependent upon lab tests, a care plan can only be developed with this information. This is the world of pathology.

We’re in the midst of great change in medicine. With the information gleaned from sequencing the human genome, we are beginning to unravel the mysteries of cancer and other diseases. Pathologists have been key players in this discovery pipeline. Care can now be individualized. This leads to quicker diagnoses, earlier and more effective treatments and improved outcomes. Buzz words like “personalized healthcare” and “precision medicine” are becoming commonplace.

Screen-shot-2013-08-06-at-4.20.46-PM-620x457  breast cancer

 

‘Is this what breast cancer looks like?’ she asked me.

But this genomic revolution comes with a price tag. Most of these tests cost thousands of dollars, which creates a dilemma. The Affordable Care Act asks us to do more with less. There is emphasis on quality care that is both accountable and cost conscious.

So how do we balance the two? I would argue that the answer is pathologists. We help our clinical colleagues choose the right test, for the right patient, at the right time. Choosing the “right” test often begins when the diagnosis is first made.

Sitting with Mrs. C, I adjusted the light of the multi-headed microscope so she could see her cells more clearly. She was silent, but I could sense her anxiety.

“Is this what breast cancer looks like?” she asked me, as her eyes scanned her cells on a slide.

“These are cancer cells that grow as little donuts invading the tissue,” I said, hoping to make meaning out of the sea of cells for her.

A smile of relief lit up her face. “Dr. Misialek, that’s a great analogy.” Her cancer was starting to make sense to her, she said.

That’s exactly what I’m here for as a pathologist.

Mrs. C was undecided between lumpectomy and mastectomy. Seeing the pathology, seeing her cells, enabled her to make the decision. She chose a mastectomy, in fact a bilateral mastectomy.

Mrs. C was undecided between lumpectomy and mastectomy. Seeing the pathology, seeing her cells, enabled her to make the decision. She chose a mastectomy, in fact a bilateral mastectomy.

Often when a slide is under my microscope I feel a sense of honor knowing I am the first one to make a diagnosis that will be life-altering. Each slide speaks to me. It is my job to listen.

Microscope-300x401

I imagine the dominoes that will be set in motion when I pick up the phone to report my findings. It is not only bad news. Just the other day I couldn’t wait to report a benign diagnosis of a young woman’s breast biopsy. Her doctor had called me earlier looking for any preliminary information. She said the patient was in tears after the procedure, convinced she had cancer. She did not, and that made my day. A different outcome than Mrs. C., who is starting chemotherapy and radiation soon.

Just recently I received a thank you card in the mail from Mrs. C. She said that having had a tour of our lab, seeing her slides and understanding how a pathologist helped her was the best part of her entire experience. It extended a warmer touch, in a world filled with barcodes, sterile instruments and starched white lab coats.

You might be hesitant to seek out your pathologist. However, with healthcare reform, pathologists are becoming more and more involved with direct patient care. We welcome the opportunity.

What can you do? Ask your doctor who is the pathologist and lab they use. Remember, you can always request a second opinion. Take the opportunity to look at your slides with your pathologist. It will be an enlightening experience. Be your own advocate. And know that if the system resists your efforts to meet with your pathologist, it’s not what your pathologist wants. We want to know you as well as we know your slides.

 

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