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Inside the Lab Digital and computational pathology, Profession, Technology and innovation, Software and hardware

The Future of Pathology Informatics

In September, we lost a giant in medicine and medical research: Donald A.B. Lindberg. As Head of the National Library of Medicine, Lindberg modernized and digitized the vast amounts of materials the library housed and changed the way medical information is shared across the world. Lindberg was also a pathologist and a leader in medical informatics, using data and technology to deliver better patient care and information for improved outcomes. What he started decades ago has helped shape what we know today as pathology informatics.

Pathology informatics is an evolving field – and one that is primed to disrupt health care as we know it. In today’s patient-centric healthcare environment, patient data offers a wealth of opportunity. Being able to see the whole patient record is critical to better understanding a patient’s diagnosis and developing a more personalized treatment plan. There is so much we can learn from one person – but, with the information that we get from a collective of patients, we can learn an order of magnitude more.

[Pathology informatics] is the foundation upon which the future of healthcare will be built.

And that’s where informatics comes in. Connecting data to parse solutions to diagnostic issues is driving modern pathology practice. Rather than let data sit in a black hole, pathology and laboratory professionals need to be the leaders who bring it to light, shaping the information held within into something more useful for clinicians and patients alike. Over the past decade, pathology informatics has made – and continues to make – great strides. And, without a doubt, pathology informatics will fuel personalized medicine. It will push the boundaries of what we can do, and its potential is almost limitless. It is the foundation upon which the future of healthcare will be built.

But we’re not there yet.

There is still a need for faster, better information exchange across different systems (while still complying with patient privacy). Once we have the data, we need the programs and the technology for meaningful interpretation. And, as we use data for more personalized diagnoses and treatment plans, insurance companies need to understand how best to execute their reimbursement processes.

Since the dawn of modern pathology, we have been the providers of laboratory data and clinicians have been interpreters. But that can’t happen in today’s environment, where value-based health care is becoming the norm. The scope of the data we receive via informatics pathways is huge and, to be effective, it must be broken down into insightful information. And we – pathologists and laboratory medicine professionals – are the change agents who can take the data from idea into integration.

We are the future of informatics.

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About the Author
E. Blair Holladay

CEO of the American Society for Clinical Pathology

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