Improving patient diagnoses with video conferencing
Use of video conferencing in healthcare
Imagine you’re starting to experience pain in your neck. Or you’ve noticed that your lymph nodes are enlarged or swollen. Before panicking, you make an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out. Once there, the doctor takes a biopsy and sends it to a lab to be examined and tested.
That’s where Dr. Lester Thompson comes in.
Dr. Thompson started his career as an orthopedic surgeon, but with a passion for pathology, he took a job with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) to render diagnoses and consultations on unusual diseases. After more than a decade, he started Head and Neck Pathology Consultations where he currently works today and has been for the past 16 years, as a consultant pathologist. Tucked away in Woodland Hills, California, he focuses his time and energy on head, neck, and endocrine pathology (think anything below the eyes and above the clavicles). Specifically, he provides a second opinion on pathology cases that are difficult to diagnose. In the nation, there are little more than a dozen other people who do what he does—and in that, there are even further subspecialties.
On a daily basis, he consults with hospitals around the world, primarily interacting with other physicians. Doctors/physicians take samples of tissue or fluids and send them to Dr. Thompson to examine if they are unable to come up with a diagnosis themselves.
Video conferencing with a microscope
Once sent the samples, Dr. Thompson uses his microscope to look for slightest variations between normal and abnormal to give a diagnosis. Once he comes up with a diagnosis, he sends the results back to the requesting pathologist, who then provides the results to the treating physicians who are working with the patient.
The step that enhances this exchange is Webex video conferencing. Pathology is an extremely visual field. Every color, border, size, and shape matters. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth even more”, explains Dr. Thompson. He started using Webex Meetings five years ago to meet with each physician and walk through his pathology reports. He has since taken video conferencing a step further. By attaching a camera to his microscope, he’s able to share his screen in real-time and point out the most important details on the pathology slide, sharing the features that led to his diagnosis. This provides real-time education for the physicians—well beyond anything a static written report could provide—and helps ensure accuracy in the diagnoses for patients going forward. The recorded meetings can be saved to use in further reference and education.
In addition, the security that Webex provides is extremely important in dealing with patient information and records. Because he has complete control over his screen sharing, he can ensure no identifying information is revealed. And with end-to-end encryption, Webex keeps meeting content secure at all times during the meetings.
A bridge from patient anxiety to assurance
While his work typically ends with the physician, he often interacts with the patient directly. One particular case was a little different.
Dr. Thompson received a consultation case for someone in Greece. It was a thyroid case and he was sent a small biopsy of a thyroid tumor to examine. He diagnosed it as an undifferentiated carcinoma, which is a rare and extremely aggressive form of thyroid cancer. The patient had less than a few months left to live.
The doctor in Greece asked Dr. Thompson if he would be willing to speak to the family so they could better understand the severity of the tumor. Through a video conference using Webex, he spoke to the daughter. Rather than using obscure medical terminology, he chose instead to communicate the essence of time. He asked if there was something that her dad (the patient) had always wanted to do, but hadn’t yet done. Upon learning about a family vacation to Hawaii, he told them to do it in the next month or two. Four months later, the daughter sent Dr. Thompson a postcard from Hawaii, where their entire family, including her dad, got to spend time together on a trip they had always wanted to take—about 6 weeks before he died.
Dr. Thompson comments that Webex meetings are time-independent. You can join with anyone around the world, in any time zone and talk to them like you are there in the room. In this case, he was able to communicate with the patient’s family on a much more intimate level, delivering very sensitive and life-changing news. The video functionality allows for real conversations, and diagnoses and relationships to be formed. That is really powerful.
And, there’s more…
The qualitative use cases are numerous, but Dr. Thompson has also benefited in other ways. When he first started, he was being sent 70 cases per year. Now, he gets up to 1,300 cases per year. His caseload has increased by 10% every year for the past five years. And, with video conferencing and being able to talk to physicians individually, he is able to keep up with each case and provide them the care and time they need.
For Dr. Thompson, his job isn’t about curing everyone. It’s about giving the right diagnosis at the right time so a person knows and understands the next course of action- whether that be treatment, or in severe cases, how much time they may have left to live.
Webex video conferencing is the bridge. It can take a patient from anxiety and uncertainty to understanding and assurance in more ways than one.
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