Purpose: The accurate diagnosis of hematologic malignancies remains a challenging area for histopathologists. In 2003, the North Central London Lymphoma network was established to provide a centralized expert review service for general histopathologists based in peripheral nonspecialist hospitals. By studying samples sent for review, we sought to assess the diagnostic and clinical impact of centralized expert review in lymphoma diagnosis.
Methods: A total of 1,949 patient samples were subject to expert review between 2003 and 2008. Diagnostic discordance rates were identified after expert review, and the impact on patient management was assessed by a hematologic oncology specialist.
Results: An overall discordance rate of 27.3% was identified. Among the 10 most commonly referred lymphoid malignancies, the discordance rate varied between 3.6% and 34.1%. A small but significant number of reactive (n = 17) and malignant (n = 5) discordant diagnoses were also identified. Expert central review resulted in a major change to patient management in 2.1% of patients and prevented delays in treatment in 9.3% of patients. During the 6-year study, the discordance rate improved significantly, decreasing from 32% to 13%. Although centralized review incurred additional costs, these were relatively small compared with the costs associated with treatment.
Conclusion: This retrospective study demonstrates the importance of expert central review in the accurate diagnosis and timely management of lymphoid malignancies. Furthermore, it shows that where full centralization of services is not viable, a network comprising nonspecialist hospitals linked to a center providing expert review is a practical alternative to full unification of services at a single location and can help prevent local deskilling.