I’ve been learning about pathology during a tour of SydPath Pathology at St Vincent’s Hospital in Darlinghurst.
Pathologists are sometimes referred to as the doctors’ doctors, because they help doctors analyse results to confirm diagnosis and work out the best course of treatment.
Interestingly, diagnosis is not always black and white – it takes the pathologist’s experience, combined with the latest technology to get the right answer. Their detective work happens behind the lab wall, so most patients are unaware of how their diagnosis was made.
Perhaps a television drama dedicated to pathology could lift their profile?
A/Prof Graham Jones was my tour guide and he told me that there are 50 million requests for pathology every year. Without this service and expertise, hospitals would grind to a halt.
I met pathologists of all different specialities who showed me how advances in technology are improving their ability to do their jobs more accurately and much quicker.
For instance, the MALDI-TOF machine has cut the amount of time it takes to diagnose bacteria from up to 48 hours to just five minutes. This technology has revolutionised microbiology – by analysing the proteins in the bug, pathologists can name it in a few minutes and the patient can be treated.
The HIV lab at St Vincent’s handles 30 per cent of all diagnoses in Australia. Importantly, they can analyse dried blood samples, meaning they can perform this diagnostic service for remote areas in Australia, as well as for neighbours like PNG and Fiji.
In clinical pharmacology, careful analysis ensures patients get the right dose of antibiotics, meaning patients get the best treatment and can be discharged from Intensive Care earlier. It also avoids under-dosing, which can allow resistant strains of bacteria to develop - a growing problem in modern medicine.
And the cytogenetics team can detect the tiniest abnormalities at a genetic level, which is especially important in treating childhood tumours. They also told me about the future of pathology in the form of next generation sequencing.
You can find out more about pathology at Pathology Awareness Australia’s Know Pathology Know Healthcare site.