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UPMC Enters China Market for Second Opinions in Surgical Pathology Cases

Posted Jun 14 2011 12:00am

Now that digital pathology has achieved some degree of maturity, an interesting question arises about the extent to which this technology can be used to provide surgical pathology consultations to overseas medical facilities. A recent announcement by the UPMC pathology department helps to answer this question (see: UPMC Enters China with Agreement to Provide Second-Opinion Pathology Consultations to KingMed Diagnostics ). Below is an excerpt from the recent article:

Marking its first medical services agreement in Asia, UPMC announced today that it will provide remote, second-opinion pathology consultations to KingMed Diagnostics , the largest independent medical diagnostic laboratory in China. Using equipment that scans glass pathology slides and stores and transmits the images electronically, KingMed will have the ability to seek second opinions on patient diagnoses from UPMC's pathologists through a secure, Web-based telepathology portal. The service is expected to start by late summer. "This three-year agreement will provide patients served by KingMed with rapid access to UPMC's world-renowned pathologists, thereby helping to ensure the most accurate diagnoses of complex diseases....The department is the largest academic clinical organization of its kind, with 175 faculty members....UPMC's collaboration with KingMed also is expected to include training for pathologists from China in UPMC's Pittsburgh facilities and joint academic meetings as part of ongoing medical education in China. In the future, KingMed may replace its telepathology platform with the digital pathology solutions being created by Omnyx, a joint venture between UPMC and GE Healthcare. Formed in 2008, Omnyx is digitizing slides and the corresponding workflow to improve collaboration, communication and efficiency. Omnyx is the first company ever formed by GE with an academic medical center.

Here's a brief description about KingMed Diagnostics, copied from its home web page:

Kingmed Diagnostics,established in 1994,is one of the earliest commercial clinical laboratories that got the "Medical Institution License" in China. It is the leading company in China that provides comprehensive laboratory testing services. Kingmed Diagnostics has now developed to be the strongest chained commercial medical laboratory after 15 years endeavor of all the staff. It is a national clinical and anatomic pathology reference laboratory,offers an extensive test menu of highly complex and unique medical tests.

UPMC pathology department describes itself as the largest academic clinical organization of its kind. This assertion is backed up in the article  by the fact that it has 175 faculty members. The size of this department should come as no surprise given that it is embedded in a medical school and health system that encompasses some 20 hospitals. UPMC had an operating budget of more than $6B in 2008 and outspent  all other U.S.hospitals in that year on lobbying expenditures (see: UPMC outspends all U.S. hospitals on lobbying ).

One question that occurred to me when reading this article was why the pathology department would establish a relationship with a commercial reference lab in China rather than with, say, another academic department in a medical school. The reason is probably that the major thrust of this initiative will be to generate profits for consultative digital pathology services and test the premise that second opinions can be effectively rendered in this way. In such a setting, it makes most sense to seek a financially stable partner such as a for-profit reference lab. Most of the Chinese medical school are very large and government-owned and perhaps not responsive to this type of business model.

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