Background: The Eastern Quebec Telepathology Network (called Réseau de Télépathologie de l'Est du Québec in French) was created to provide uniform diagnostic telepathology services in a huge territory with low population density. We report our first 3-year experience.
Methods: The network was funded equally by the Québec ministry of Health and Canada Health Infoway, a federal telehealth funding agency. The coverage includes intraoperative consultations (IOC), expert opinions, urgent analyses and supervision of macroscopic description. The deployment of the equipment and software started in 2010 and clinical activities began in January 2011. This network comprises 24 hospitals providing oncologic surgery, of which 7 have no pathology laboratory and 4 have a pathology laboratory but no pathologist. The real-time gross evaluation during IOC was performed using a macroscopy station and the sample selection was performed distantly by a technician, a pathology assistant or the surgeon under on-site pathologist supervision. Slides were scanned into whole-slide images (WSI).
Results: As per March 2014, 7,440 slides had been scanned for primary/urgent diagnosis; 1,329 for IOC cases and 2,308 for expert opinions. A 98% concordance rate was found for IOC compared to paraffin material and the average turnaround time was 20 minutes. Expert opinion reports were signed out within 24 hours in 68% of cases and within 72 hours in 85%. A recent multi-method evaluation study of the Network demonstrated that, thanks to telepathology: 1. interruption of IOC service was prevented in hospitals with no pathologist on site; 2. two-stage surgeries and patients transfers were prevented according to surgeons and pathologists; 3. retention and recruitment of surgeons in remote hospitals were facilitated; and 4. professional isolation among pathologists working alone was reduced. This study also demonstrated that wider adoption of telepathology would require technological improvement and that the sustainability of the network requires better coordination and the development of a supra-regional pathology organisation.
Conclusion: The Eastern Quebec Telepathology Network allowed the maintenance of rapid and high quality pathology services in more than 20 sites disseminated on a huge territory. A second phase is underway to expand telepathology to other regions across the province.