UltraClinics Aims to Spread Telepathology
UltraClinics Inc. (Tucson, AZ) has begun marketing a telepathology service that will allow diagnostic imaging centers and outpatient surgery centers to offer their patients same-day anatomic pathology reports from on-site tissue biopsies, Ronald Weinstein, M.D., 67, chairman of UltraClinics, tells LE. UltraClinics is a for-profit spin-off company of the University of Arizona and its renowned telemedicine program.
Weinstein says the system is currently in use at two locations in Arizona. The University Physicians Tucson Breast Center is offering same-day pathology reports for breast cancer biopsies. And the University Physicians Hospital at Kino (Tucson) is offering the service for both breast and prostate cancer biopsies. Both sites have connected with University Physicians Healthcare for professional services. Weinstein says UltraClinics will add a dermatopathology service soon as well.
The service requires each outpatient site to invest roughly $200,000 to set up a rapid histology lab, microtome, digital slide scanner, and electronic medical record (EMR). The outpatient site prepares a patient biopsy slide, and then electronically transmits a high-resolution image of the entire slide to an off-site pathologist for professional interpretation. The pathologist transmits the lab report into the patient’s EMR. The whole process is usually completed within five hours versus more than two weeks for traditional anatomic pathology reports, according to Weinstein.
He says the service allows referring physicians to consult with their patients about the pathology results on the same day as the biopsy procedure. It also makes it easier to obtain a second opinion on the pathology report, he adds.
Weinstein, who is also head of pathology at the University of Arizona and co-founder of the digitalslide-scanning company DMetrix (Tucson), is hoping to install the UltraClinics’ system at more than 500 outpatient sites in the United States over the next five years. He views UltraClinics as a “turnkey solution” that can connect any pathologist with any hospital or outpatient clinic in the world.
In fact, Weinstein says that foreign-born pathologists on the faculty at the University of Arizona are already making plans to link with their American-boarded pathologist colleagues in India and Shanghai, China. “Telemedicine will enable international group practices to form,” he says. “You’ll have a conference where three world experts can look at the slide at the same time.” He says UltraClinics will leverage time zone differences so that women who have breast biopsies late in the afternoon will be able to receive their lab reports the same day. He expects this service to be available in the near future.
But what about the controversy that outsourcing pathology work overseas is sure to bring? “I believe every American should have access to sub-specialty pathology. It’s quality that we should be focused on,” answers Weinstein.
Weinstein believes the movement towards cosumer-driven healthcare will minimize third-party reimbursement issues. “As we move from insurance company referrals toward HSAs [health savings accounts] that let patients determine where their specimens go, fast test results and second opinions will bring people to UltraClinics,” he says.