Telepathology - The Future Of Lab Medicine

Suresh Vazirani, Chairman & Managing Director, Transasia ­ Erba GroupHolding an Engineering degree from the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, Suresh established Transasia in 1979 with a vision to solve the challenges faced by medical professionals in offering quality & efficient healthcare facilities to patients.

A patient sitting in remote Dibrugarh, shares his reports with a top oncologist in Mumbai and gets the advice in a matter of a few minutes! Remote technology is the latest trend that India is waking-up to! It's amazing to note how remote technology can come to the rescue of the 70 percent Indians who reside in rural areas and are devoid of equitable access to healthcare.

Today, the need for a future-ready digital health system has become even more urgent with the announcement of Ayushman Bharat. The National Health Policy 2017 envisages creation of a digital health technology ecosystem aimed at developing an integrated health information system. To this effect, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT), setup by the Government, focuses on development of health sector in the country, and telemedicine remains one of the focus areas.

Telepathology to Witness a Fast Paced Growth
While telemedicine is currently spreading its wings to encompass all segments of healthcare, let us particularly focus on telepathology, as laboratory diagnosis forms the basis of all treatment modalities. Telepathology services help in transferring superior quality image-rich pathological data for education, research, and patient diagnosis, and are useful for emergency services, obtaining expert opinion on referral cases, patient diagnosis at remote locations, meetings & conferences, quality assurance, and educational purposes. The global telepathology service market was valued at $637 million in 2018 and is expected to generate $1,786 million by 2027, at a CAGR of 12 percent between 2019 and 2027. Speaking of the Indian scenario, the telepathology market is expected to touch $2 billion by 2020.

While North America and Europe contribute to the highest share in the global telepathology market, Asia Pacific is projected to register the
highest CAGR in the near future, owing to the growing availability of healthcare facilities, rising investments for telepathology, and increasing prevalence of life-threatening diseases. The growing demand for enhanced patient management services and government support, especially in China, Japan, and India, is projected to fuel the Asia Pacific telepathology service market in the future.

Telepathology in India: How can it help?
The challenges India is facing today include meeting the growing healthcare demand, bringing together pathologists, biochemists, and microbiologists under one virtual umbrella, making use of technology to bridge the delivery gap, and ensuring that quality and accuracy remain uncompromised. An alarming statistic; there are approximately one lakh diagnostic labs in the country, but only one percent of these are accredited. For every one lakh people, there are just about eight diagnostic labs, and 70 percent of the industry functions by sharing the services of pathologists, biochemists or microbiologists or at times in even their absence. This obviously poses a challenge for ensuring quality services.

Telepathology can play a very important role, as it allows for consultation as well as interactive peer discussions. It ensures accessibility to qualified pathologists round-the-clock, thereby ensuring real-time reporting during emergency, a boon for tier-II, III and IV cities and towns. It can prove to be beneficial for smaller labs in implementation of uniform protocols and standardization of reports.

A Long Road Ahead
With all the advantages that it holds, the reality is that telepathology is yet to find its place not just in India but also globally. According to the WHO, only 22 percent countries have national telehealth policies!

In India particularly, there are many factors that have hampered the acceptance of telepathology. To start with, most pathologists are not averse to applying modern technology. Hence, the government and other professional institutions can play an active role in creating a pool of skilled professionals who are adept at using the latest technologies. As a country, our strength lies in the availability of skilled pathologists. Standardization and a legal roadmap can thus go a long way in promoting telepathology.

The Powerplay of Technology - Not Just for Service Providers, but Manufacturers as Well!
Medical devices manufacturers are waking-up to the use of remote technology in order to offer value beyond just devices and connect with customers and their patients. India's leading In-vitro Diagnostic Company, Transasia Bio-Medicals recently introduced Transconnect, a cloud based `Internet of Things (IoT) system', to help equip labs with cutting-edge technology to improve patient treatment outcomes and enable better analytic insights.

In the future, drone technology may make it easier and safer to provide home-based care. As we know, blood and other samples deteriorate in a few hours from drawing. Hence, when a provider rounds on a home patient, blood can be drawn and immediately sent by drone to the lab to be tested.

The Time is Now
Considering the rate at which we are transiting to a virtual world, it is a good time for us as a country to adopt the new-age models and solutions that bring quality and affordable healthcare to the forefront through seamless technologies. Telepathology and telemedicine go hand-in-hand. They can contribute mightily to speedy and accurate diagnosis, leading to appropriate clinical advise to millions of patients.