Friday, June 6, 2008

clinial innovation - Anatomic Pathology Innovation

Cinda Becker, NYC Bureau Chief of Modern Healthcare, called yesterday to ask what I thought about the announcement that GE and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) had launched a new business, Omynx.LLC, to digitize and revolutionize disease detection.

“Revolutionizing” anatomic pathology, a 125 year old practice based on glass slides overlaid with tissue sections from paraffin blocks, sounded like verbal overkill to me, but maybe not. GE and UPMC had each chipped in $20 million to form a company “improve the speed, efficiency of diagnosis, and interpretation of tissue report. The new company would form a “new digital platform to enable clinicians to share images to virtually interpret results using advanced algorithms, and reduce costs.”

The annoucement added, “Omnyx will be the first company in GE’s history to be formed with an academic medical center and represents a aim to accelerate ideas to market through enhanced co-development.”

This is what I told Ms. Becker after reading the full text of the announcement.

1) This is basically good idea with tough cases, though I’m dubious about routine mass “screening” of slides. Tough cases often involve sending slides by snail mail to outside experts with agonizingly slow waiting times.

2) Sharing digital images of slides with sharing of opinion would minimize chances of error and individual mistakes on a pathologist’s bad day.

3) The technological already exists for digitizing radiological images and in some cases, like Mayo, for sending tissue images. I saw no reason this technology couldn’t be extended to slides.

4) To me the larger story was the emergence of centers of innovation in multiple health care centers – UPMC, Kaiser, Virginia Mason, Northwestern Memorial, Vanderbilt, Health Partners, Mayo, Johns Hopkins, the Cleveland Clinic – and co-partnering with innovative corporations. It is no secret that medical centers has been stodgy and behind the curve in matters of systematic innovation across the enterprise.

A final cautionary note, which may be a function of my ignorance of the current state of anatomic pathology. Perhaps because I still believe in the power of the naked eye and the alert mind conditioned by experience, I’m a bit wary of talk about “advanced algorithms to interpret results “and “to screen large numbers of slides in search of small nests of cells.” These thoughts may apply to cytology sides, screening of fluids, and needle biopsy aspirations, but I find it difficult to envision how these new techniques would work with paraffin-fixed tissues.”

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