Review of the National Pathology Forum

National Pathology Forum 2014. Value of Pathology. Value in Information.

The National Pathology Forum was held in Sydney in September and was attended by laboratory managers and industry leaders from Australia as well as New Zealand.

The purpose of the forum is to share recent developments in pathology and how these are contributing to improve Australian health. The program featured case studies on innovative testing methods in the fields of genetics, bio-banking and point-of-care. Expert speakers represented from Government, state-based Departments of Health, public and private pathology, universities and hospitals across Australia which provided delegates with a vast number of the latest industry perspectives.

Sysmex Business Development Manager, Noel Paggao, found the two days highly valuable. “ As a leading lab IT and IVD provider, it is important that Sysmex is aware of industry challenges and trends. Participating in events such as the National Pathology Forum guides us on how we can continue to be responsive to support future healthcare through technology”. The content of the speaker presentations, the networking, workshops and panel discussions set the scene for some of the ongoing challenges faced by Australian pathology labs. Underpinning funding issues is the lack of value placed on Australian pathology testing services.

Those that work in the industry recognise the majority of clinical diagnosis is based on lab testing, and the information creates highly meaningful contribution to medical records and cancer diagnosis. Yet only 3% healthcare budget spend is allocated to labs. Pathology services are “invisible” to most patients and requestors.

Know Pathology, Know Healthcare is endorsed by renowned organisations including RCPA and IVD Australia. This brand has been formed to assist the industry in the promotion of the value of pathology to the broader community, e.g., patients, health consumer organisations, pathology staff, health services and recently extended to government funders and politicians.

It was proposed that formalised studies are needed to consider and accurately analyse the impact of pathology testing on clinical outcome and/ or quality of life. The outcomes of such studies can then be used to present facts and data to government and other healthcare stakeholders to demonstrate value and benefits of investing in pathology industry, i.e. “informing government and relevant healthcare executives to know the value of pathology and know that it is valued”.

While promoting the value of pathology will potentially increase awareness to ensure sustained funding, continual focus is placed on creating greater efficiencies in the lab. Across both public and private pathology services, investing in automation provides long term cost benefits through significant service efficiencies. Regionalisation of public pathology services delivers greater standardisation across many areas of the organisation, from IT to instrumentation and staffing. In turn these organisations are recompensed with long term cost efficiencies.

Process improvements which incorporate the principals of Lean and Six sigma are becoming more widely adopted by pathology services. Mergers and acquisitions are seeing the consolidation of private pathology providers across Australia. In the public sector there is a lean toward outsourcing of routine lab work.

The value of pathology in the healthcare paradigm can be enhanced through closer integration of pathology and the patient, disrupting the traditional model. One example provided, placed microbiologists at outpatient centres for proactive monitoring of infectious diseases. The outcome = reduced ward beds.

Central to these visions is information technology. We know the value of pathology to patient care pathways, and the data is gold to the health system as a whole. Leveraging the information and data through IT holds enormous potential for laboratory management, business intelligence and clinical decision support. Pathology is in the business of providing information, which when underpinned by the right technologies, delivers the answers to questions across many facets of health.

Further to this, advances in emerging disciplines such as genomics and metabolomics will increase demand on pathology for predictive and preventative investigations. As frequently occurs with new innovations, the costs of these tests are now dropping significantly. This new afford-ability means the demand will escalate, and along with this wave, the data will gain greater value.

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