Definition & Overview

If you receive a bill for pathology consultation together with your medical bills, you may be a little confused because it’s likely you never consulted a pathologist at all. However, while you may not have consulted a pathologist personally, one was definitely consulted when your condition was being diagnosed.

To fully understand the events that led to a pathology consultation that you weren’t aware ever took place, you’ll need to understand the nature of pathology. Pathology is a branch of medicine that focuses on the study of body fluids and tissue. Doctors that specialize in this field are called pathologists.

Pathologists are specialists that work behind the scenes, so patients rarely have a need to consult them directly. However, their work is critical to the accurate identification of diseases so the attending doctor can decide upon the ideal form of treatment.

For example, if you consulted a doctor with a chief complaint of abdominal pain, the doctor will have you undergo a series of tests to diagnose the cause of the said symptom. It is likely that the doctor will obtain blood, urine, and stool samples. In some cases, the doctor may request a biopsy, which involves obtaining a tissue specimen of an internal organ and analyzing it for diseases.

The body fluids and tissue specimens are forwarded to the pathologist. The pathologist may not do the actual work of preparing the samples for study, but he or she will supervise the process and produce a pathology report, which will then be forwarded to your doctor. The pathology report will indicate the results of the tests. Your doctor will then study the results and come up with a diagnosis. There are times when the doctor and pathologist will work together to diagnose the condition. The entire process is referred to as a pathology consultation.

In some cases, even pathologists need a second opinion. When this happens, the pathologist will forward the findings to another group of pathologists that further specialize in a particular field. This is also called a pathologist consultation.

Who Should Undergo and Expected Results

When a patient is suspected to have a disease, the services of a pathologist will be required. As you might be able to tell, pathologists are actually very busy because almost everybody that goes to a hospital will need to be diagnosed. These days, most medical cases are related to some sort of disease.

Patients don’t usually see the pathology report, although this will be entered into their medical records. Unless you’re a medical professional, seeing the actual report won’t be beneficial. The report will contain plenty of information and only those who are trained to analyze the data can make heads or tails of what the report indicates.

How Does the Procedure Work?

The entire procedure is quite simple, if it is to be explained in layman’s terms. The attending doctor will request for specimens to be taken from the patient. The specimen is forwarded to the pathologist, which will then be prepared and studied. The pathologist will then produce a pathology report with all the findings and forward it to the attending doctor. The doctor will then analyze the report and come up with a diagnosis. If needed, the pathologist will request for a second opinion and forward the report to another group of pathologists that specialize in a particular field.

However, the actual process is a little bit more complicated because there are many branches of pathology. These include, but not limited to, cytopathology, histopathology, forensic pathology, surgical pathology, dermatopathology, and clinical pathology. As a patient, you won’t likely need to be aware of what branch of pathology was consulted, but when your doctor provides a diagnosis, one or more of the branches were likely to have been consulted.

Possible Complications and Risks

The primary risk of pathology consultations is a false positive or false negative result, which is why it is common for pathologists to request for a second opinion. The more doctors that agree on the interpretation of the data, the higher the chances of the pathology report being accurate.

When a pathologist requests for a second opinion it usually because of any of the following circumstances:

  • The primary pathologist has doubts about the diagnosis
  • The doctor has doubts about the diagnosis
  • The patient or attending doctor requests for a second opinion

As a patient, you have every right to question the diagnosis of your doctor. If, for any reason, you feel that obtaining a second opinion would place your mind at ease, then inform your doctor that you wish to obtain a second opinion. The pathology report will be released, and you or your doctor can consult another pathologist. When doing so, it’s important that you’re also comfortable with the skills of the pathologist you’re consulting.


  • College of American Pathologists
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