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What Is Telepathology?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Several spokes of the healthcare wheel are suited for the technology of telemedicine, which involves doctoring from a distance through the operation of many medical practitioners. Though specialties like obstetrics and surgery are likely to always have a certain hands-on element, fields like telepathology are emerging as viable ways to increase business for doctors and access to quality healthcare for more-isolated populations. Utilizing the latest telecommunications, video, photography and microscopic technology, a telepathologist can work from home or a clinic far away and still properly diagnose patients and advise other doctors on proper treatments.

Telepathology combines the remote technology of the early 21st century with the field of pathology, which is focused on the identification of the many diseases that plague the human race. This is not the only branch of medicine that has benefited from the advanced technology. Practices also are established for dermatologists, radiologists and even ordinary family physicians, who can monitor and treat patients via ordinary Internet connection. In addition to easy correspondence and fast sharing of testing data and medical files among doctors in vastly different areas, it also allows doctors to take their practices online for more profit potential.

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Academic and online advancements also have led to the distance learning approach, which is easily applied to fields like pathology. At the Brown University Medical School in Rhode Island, U.S., three professors of medicine have published an online database with microscopic photographs and basic data for most common diseases and conditions. This can help less-trained lab technicians across the globe better diagnose a patient without having to even consult an expert. It also might alleviate the need for a low-budget practice to invest huge funds in remote control and photographic equipment.

In the past, a patient might have to travel a 100 miles or more to a major city for some of the more perplexing diagnoses to be made. In 2011, telepathology allows an expert to examine a patient from afar. This includes not just standard medical records but also real-time, high-resolution, microscopic images of the patient's blood, tissue, tumor, urine or stool. The new method dramatically shortens the time needed to make a diagnosis.

According to a 1987 study, published online by the National Institutes of Health, the field has had adequate technology for at least three decades. This research used a telepathology system that allowed a doctor to manipulate a microscope in a field laboratory to adequately analyze a patient's blood for diseases and to tell the difference between benign and malignant tissue. The researchers concluded that this type of remote analysis was effective for not only remote patient care but also for online consultations.

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