Pandemic 2020, has brought diagnostics at the centre of healthcare. Though diagnostics has always been the backbone of medicine, but the spotlight is on it now. Pathology is becoming much more sensational now, In the middle of difficulty, lies the opportunity, for pathologists, medical laboratory professionals and pathology labs, to underscore not only the critical essential role they play in patient health but also the value of their laboratory, as a knowledge centre for healthcare providers. Without laboratories, men of science are soldiers without arms. Pathologists have always known what the rest of the world has now realized – that there is so much more to the laboratory than tests in and results out.
It is time to emphasize to both patients and healthcare providers that, the laboratory cannot and should not be, relegated to the back row of health and patient care. The role of the pathologist or medical laboratory scientist is changing rapidly and is getting more critical to patient care. To survive in this rapidly changing environment, the laboratories need a high level of flexibility to quickly adapt to constant shifts and unpredictable times.
COVID pandemic affected all labs and was a great learning too. From almost shut down to come in the forefront, the diagnostics have proven that, without laboratories, treatment is impossible.
The world of diagnostics is entering into a new revolution. Sequencing, genomics, digitalization, robotization, and automation have given rise to highly flexible smart laboratories which can handle both routine, high volume, highly customized, integrated, and new technology driven analysis, at a very competitive price. Biotechnology, integrated wearable devices/POCs nanotechnology, and digital pathology are leading to an accelerated change. Many new disruptive and innovative technologies are shaping the future of clinical diagnostics.
Few of the major trends which ae now visible and leading this transformation are:
- Personalized/precision, medicine patient-centric approach and individualised diagnosis;
- Advances in genomics, with full automation, leading to improved turnaround time and precise diagnosis;
- New research based analytic models and more specific biomarkers, requiring more flexibility in diagnostic approach, spl in area of cancer, neural disorders, regenerative, and functional medicine; and
- Rapidly evolving role of bioinformatics to address complex clinical diagnostics.
With such rapid growth and changing requirements, the IVD companies and clinical laboratories will require advanced quality and new technology devices which are flexible and fully automated. Emerging technologies of cloud computing and machine learning will be a great aid for next generations laboratories, making it easier to analyze, share and integrate the data for better outcome and personalised service.
Along with exciting new possibilities for clinical diagnostics there are many new challenges too. With advent of so many heterogeneous technologies, concerns of quality, long term sustainability, safety and the integrity of individual data, an ever-changing environment and regulatory issues must be addressed at a faster pace. There is no gold standard solution for these challenges. Instead, those who can adapt to a constantly changing environment will be the winners. With this new industry revolution, constant change has become the new normal and will be a must for survival and meaningful delivery.
The laboratories need to adjust their processes on a continual basis and have to bring in, built-in flexibility in clinical diagnostics applications. To survive and be relevant, the pathologist and laboratories, should be able to move rapidly as per market and clinical needs. For example -switch between customized and generic services/switch to new market segments including immunoassay, mass spectrometry, molecular testing, and so forth.
Providing diagnostic solutions which are predictive, preventive, personalized, prognostic and improve patient care and clinical outcomes are no more an afterthought. The pathologist must work, more closely with clinicians and must play an important role in developing predictive diagnostics for critical decision points for multiple care paths rather than for only one therapy. As we move closer to the precision medicine, the algorithms and technologies will empower physicians to understand the potential outcomes for the myriad of therapeutic options available to them. Clinicians ae now offering the first-line clinical information to the pathology department so that pathologists offer a diagnosis that is more beneficial to the patient and drive better patient outcomes. Timely, more elaborate, and correct communication will be key!
The role of new biomarkers is getting noticed not only for new drug development, but also for existing therapies. Guiding the physicians to take clinically relevant decisions about therapies like chemotherapy, radiation therapy using new diagnostic tools will not only improve patient outcomes but will provide advantages for the entire healthcare ecosystem.
With the rising cost of healthcare, and our aging population, we require to fund and find, new ways to meet these challenges. Needless to say, there will be pressure on diagnosticians to deliver, at much lower cost and with high quality standards.
Medicine as war is a metaphor commonly used in the field of healthcare. In this war, pathologists are investigating teams responsible for determining the disposition, intention, composition, and capabilities. Any intelligence they gather about the illness or disease helps doctors in formulating the best strategy treatment and patient management. Pathologist’s continuous involvement is a must for the overall progress of medicine.
Automation and digitalisation will lead to development of newer skills and better workflows in the pathology lab. Pathologist’s love to see under the microscope. Many pathology labs are hesitant to adopt digitalisation. There remains uncertainty around the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its true impact on pathology. It is also important to recognize that AI-based technologies or machines will never replace pathologists, But I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before digitalisation will prevail. Instead, such innovations will play an assistive role, augmenting the decision-making capabilities of pathologists and helping them perform better and faster. We need to learn from radiologists’ experiences and from many of their solutions, because they can be translated into the questions that need to be answered in pathology.
Today, new technologies are changing the game for pathologists. Embracing such innovations will be key to gain the upper hand in healthcare’s frontline as we move ahead in the future.