You give a blood sample at your doctor’s office as part of a routine. The next day, you receive an email, linking you to a webpage with detailed results of your current health including requests to seek both a cardiologist and a nutritionist.

How did that simple vial of blood yield so much information? Today we cover pathology, from what it is, how it’s used to get such information (and more!), to why medical computers are best for this important field.  

Pathology – The Study of Disease

Pathology is the medical discipline primarily concerned with the cause, origin, and nature of disease or injury. As a field of general inquiry and research, pathology breaks down as:

  • mechanisms of development (pathogenesis)
  • structural alterations of cells (morphologic changes) 
  • consequences of changes (clinical manifestations) 

The examination of tissues, organs, bodily fluids, and autopsies are the main methods used in the field.

Currently, pathology can be divided into eight main areas. These are based on the methods in diagnosis or the diseases and injuries being examined: 

  • General pathology –  the study of the mechanisms behind cell and tissue injury and how the body responds to these injuries. The term is used also to describe anatomical and clinical pathology (see below). 
  • Anatomical pathology – the study and diagnosis of illness through microscopic analysis of samples from bodily fluids, tissue samples, and sometimes even an entire body (autopsy). 
  • Clinical pathology – the analysis of blood, urine, and tissue samples (especially fluids). Also referred to as laboratory medicine.  
  • Chemical pathology – identifies changes in body chemistry in proteins, hormones, and electrolytes since these can indicate and provide clues about disease or disease risk.
  • Diagnostic microbiology  – concerned with diseases caused by pathogenic agents like  bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. 
  • Genomic  pathology – this field involves tests on bodily fluids and tissues to detect genetic diseases and illnesses on chromosomes, biochemical markers, or DNA that are present. 
  • Hematopathology – concerned with various different disease aspects that affect the blood and/or anything else associated with blood cells like the lymph nodes, the spleen, thymus, and other lymphoid tissue. 
  • Immunopathology – deals with immune responses associated with disease. Allergies are one example. 

Though not commonly discussed, pathology also covers non-human organisms. Veterinary pathology is concerned with diseases affecting animals. Phytopathology is the study of disease in plants. Pathogens from such lifeforms may cross species and affect people.

Pathologist – Specialists of Disease Detection and Diagnosis

Pathology impacts nearly all aspects of patient care, from diagnosing cancer to managing chronic diseases. The provider who specializes in pathology is called a pathologist.  

A pathologist is an important member of any healthcare team as they help other providers reach diagnoses. They determine why a disease or infection occurred, how the cells or tissues were damaged, and figure out the signs, symptoms, and other clinical investigations to reach a diagnosis. 

In the United States, pathologists are physicians (M.D. or D.O.) who have completed a four-year undergraduate program, four years of medical school, and three to four years in a pathology residency. 

Training to be a pathologist may be within two primary specialties. For the American Board of Pathology (M.D.), these are anatomical pathology and clinical pathology. Each requires separate board certification. Most pathologists receive training and certification in both.

The American Osteopathic Board of Pathology (D.O.) adds four more primary specialties: anatomic pathology, dermatopathology, forensic pathology, and laboratory medicine. 

Pathologists may pursue more specialized fellowship training within either anatomical or clinical pathology. A sampling of these include:

  • Blood banking/transfusion 
  • Chemical pathology
  • Clinical informatics
  • Cytopathology
  • Dermatopathology
  • Forensic pathology
  • Hematology
  • Medical microbiology
  • Molecular genetic pathology
  • Neuropathology
  • Pediatric pathology

How Pathologists Diagnosis Diseases

Pathologists can be found in a variety of settings: clinic, hospital, medical office, and even their own private practice. Others can be found working in university medical schools, research facilities, independent diagnostic laboratories, or as coroners or medical examiners. All pathologists, while their individual duties may vary, diagnose the presence and stage of diseases using laboratory techniques and patient specimens. 

A sampling of a pathologist’s typical duties, responsibilities, and tasks include:

  • Analysis and interpretation of test results from microbial or parasite exams, urine analyses, hormonal assays, fine needle aspirations (FNAs), and polymerase chain reactions (PCRs).
  • The diagnosis of infections like hepatitis B and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). This is done by conducting tests to detect the antibodies that patients’ immune systems make to fight such infections.
  • Consulting with other providers about ordering and interpreting test results or providing treatments.
  • Reviewing cases by analyzing autopsies, laboratory findings, and case investigation reports.
  • Writing pathology reports summarizing analyses, results, and conclusions.
  • Communicating pathologic findings to the appropriate specialists. 
  • Training lab technicians and pathology interns. 
  • Reading literature, talking with peers, and participating in professional organizations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in the field. 

Interesting fact – AI and Pathology

Pathologists, like radiologists, have to examine, analyze, and interpret a large amount of patient data on a daily basis.  An anatomic pathologist on a given day may have to view the slides of 30 – 40 patients, with dozens or more per patient depending on the complexity of their medical issue. 

Healthcare is turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to assist pathologists with their workloads. This is similar to the computer-aided detection and diagnosis systems used in radiology. 

Experimental AI applications in pathology are focused on supporting routine diagnosis, especially in cases of cancer. One promising study showed the detection of micrometastases (metastatic tumor that is too small to be identified in a scan) of breast cancer jumped from 83.3 percent to 91.2 percent when pathologists used the AI and its algorithms.  

No follow-up tests to confirm this initial study have been done at the time of this writing. 

Medical Computers and Pathology

Unsurprisingly, computers have an important role in pathology from calculating the composition of a urine sample to displaying tissue specimens with tumor markers. Medical computers have proven ideal over off-the-shelf models with properties like:

Fanless design

Many off-the-shelf computers use fans to keep cool. These can blow dust, germs, and microbes around which could potentially contaminate pathology specimens. Fanless medical computers do not create such issues thanks to a combination of low power consumption components, a reduction of moving parts, and heat sinks.  

Small size

Medical device computers with screens around 15” are ideal in the crowded conditions of many labs. 

IP65 Rated

Pathology labs are kept as clean as possible to avoid possible contamination of specimens. Computers rated IP65 are sealed from dust and liquid penetration like cleaners, protecting their internal components from damage.

RFID scanner 

It’s extremely important for specimens to be tracked in pathology. A sample examined and diagnosed for the wrong patient can have severe consequences. Medical tablets can be equipped to scan barcodes labels on specimens to make sure they are matched to the right patients. 

Closing Comments 

Pathology is the science of disease and disease processes like injuries. It’s an extremely important branch in healthcare as pathologists provide the necessary diagnostic information for other physicians to treat patients. 

If your healthcare group is interested in medical computers that are right for your pathology department and labs, contact a representative from Cybernet. 

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