Pacific Family Health Journal with Dr Rodney Itaki
How Telepathology Can Help Change The Cancer Story In Papua New Guinea
I have been researching and writing about telepathology since 2007. I enjoyed photography in high school and developed a keen interest in this hobby. So while studying at the Kagawa Medical University in Japan, I noticed a camera attached to a microscope that was used for taking photographs and short videos of moving microorganisms. I got interested in this technology and that started me on the path towards telepathology.
What is Telepathology?
Telepathology refers to the practice of using internet to aid diagnosis of diseases by sending and receiving images of biopsy samples. The images are usually taken by a special camera attached to a microscope. Telepathology uses internet based systems to capture and transmit still photographs or real time images to a pathologist who is geographically remote from the site capturing the images.
If set up in PNG, telepathology can enable provincial hospitals to transmit images of biopsy samples to a pathologist based in Port to Moresby to make cancer diagnosis without having the pathologist physically flying around the country.
Telepathology can also allow provincial hospitals to access pathologists based in other countries. I have been working in the Federated States of Micronesia for nearly 8 months now and the pathology laboratory here uses telepathology to diagnose cancer. The hospital does not have an in-house pathologist so a Japanese Professor based in Hokkaido provides volunteer service to the hospital using telepathology.
So how does telepathology work in the Federated States of Micronesia?
The medical laboratory scientist receives biopsy tissues and prepares the samples onto a microscope slide. During telepathology consultations, the lab scientist puts the slides on a special microscope that has a camera attached and connected to a computer so that the image captured by the camera on the microscope can be seen on the computer screen. Then using special software the Japanese Professor can access the computer from Japan so that he can see the same image observed by our laboratory scientist.
The Professor and the lab scientist can also talk to each other using in-built microphone and head sets. If the Professor wants the microscope to move or the focus to be adjusted for better view, he talks to the the lab scientist using head sets and microphone.
With the recent completion of the new internet cable between Australia and PNG, there is optimism of reduced internet rates and increased speed. I think one of the health challenges that this improved technology in PNG can help overcome is the shortage of Pathologists we have in PNG.
The shortage of Pathologists in PNG is contributing to increased cancer deaths because there is increased work load at PMGH (and back log of work) resulting in very long result turn-around time for biopsy samples. More than 90% of cancer diagnosis in PNG is made at PMGH where all the Pathologists are based.
Telepathology can help overcome this challenge in the short to medium term and help hospitals in PNG access cancer diagnostic services by engaging the services of pathologists working overseas. A pathologist working in Port Moresby, Australia, Japan or in any part of the world can be engaged to provide cancer diagnostic services in Papua New Guinea without them physically relocating to PNG.
I strongly believe that with the soon-to-be faster and cheaper internet services, health authorities should consider establishing telepathology services in the 4 major regional hospitals in PNG to improve cancer diagnosis in PNG.
Telepathology has the potential to improve biopsy result turn-around time enabling faster cancer diagnosis leading to earlier commencement of cancer treatment and prevent deaths from cancer in PNG.
Dr Rodney Itaki, MBBS, BMedSci
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