Critical diagnoses in cytopathology: Experience at a large medical center

BACKGROUND

Critical values have been well established and accepted in laboratory medicine, but to the authors’ knowledge are less well accepted in anatomic pathology. Herein, the authors used a reporting process whereby reports with critical diagnoses were coded to ensure that the patient’s clinical team was promptly notified electronically of this finding. The aim of the current study was to determine whether this coding mechanism was used appropriately for critical cytopathology diagnoses in the study health care system.

METHODS

A retrospective review of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center anatomic pathology laboratory information system was performed to identify cytopathology reports in which a critical diagnosis code (MedTrak notification/CoPath Tissue Code TC66; TC66) was used from 2011 through 2016. TC66-coded cytopathology reports between 2015 and 2016 were reviewed further to determine whether this code was used appropriately.

RESULTS

A total of 1687 TC66-coded cytopathology reports were identified. Between 2015 and 2016, a total of 30 of 46 reports (65%) from academic hospitals and 46 of 441 reports (10%) from community hospitals met the critical diagnoses criteria outlined by institutional policy. The remaining TC66-coded cases were predominantly for new diagnoses of malignancy in patients clinically suspected of having cancer.

CONCLUSIONS

Use of a code for critical cytopathology diagnoses was found to be occurring increasingly at the study health care system. Pathologists at the academic and community hospitals in the study institution used this code somewhat differently, reflecting the need to satisfy communication with clinicians in different practice settings. Nevertheless, the authors’ experiences with using a code for critical diagnoses not only ensured timely patient care but also proposed a model that could be used by other medical specialties to enhance communication and improve quality of care. Cancer Cytopathol 2017. © 2017 American Cancer Society.

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