Today I had a biopsy at my doctor’s office. Why did I need a biopsy and what happens next?
A biopsy is a sample of tissue or cells that your doctor takes from your body by making a small cut, in order to answer a question (usually, “What is it?”). As a patient, you may have a question about something you have noticed that is different about your body, such as the appearance of or changes in a mole or a new development, such as a lump somewhere on your body. This will often prompt a patient to make a visit to his/her doctor. Alternatively, when you go for a routine check up, your doctor may notice something that needs to be sent for medical assessment and thus the biopsy is performed to answer the doctor’s question. Depending on the answer, your physician will either perform or recommend additional treatment or will be able to give you the ‘all clear’ (i.e., that no further treatment is needed).
Your doctor may also take a sampling of cells from a bodily site by gently scraping rather than cutting, such as from a woman’s cervix. Tests including a Pap test can be performed from this sample, and this sort of sampling is a routine part of an annual physical examination for women.
When your doctor takes a biopsy, whether it is a biopsy of your skin, your colon, or elsewhere, it is sent to a pathology lab for processing and diagnosis. The pathologist will look at the biopsy under a microscope to determine what sort of growth is present. Depending on what the pathologist finds, additional special studies may need to be performed in the lab in order to further define the type of growth and the best treatment for it.
The pathologist will then generate a report for your doctor which becomes part of your medical record, and which the doctor will use to determine if additional treatment, and what type, you should receive if any.
What is a pathologist?
Pathologists are medical doctors who specialize in diagnosing disease by examining tissues or cells through a microscope, and running tests on blood or other bodily fluids on analyzers in the laboratory. Pathologists have the same medical school training that all other doctors receive and then go on to study pathology for an additional 4 to 6 years in a residency program just like other physicians do. After residency training, pathologists take a rigorous national examination in order to achieve board certification from the American Board of Pathology. Pathologists work in many diverse settings, just like other physicians.
Pathologists act as consultants for other physicians and partner with your physician to assist in determining the right treatment, if any, that you require. When requested to do so by the treating physicians, pathologists are available to explain pathologic findings to patients as well.
Why do I get a bill from the pathologist?
This question comes up occasionally when a patient receives a bill from a pathologist who has rendered a diagnosis or otherwise contributed to the care of the patient, usually due to a biopsy or Pap test being performed on the patient.
Often times, patients do not recognize the pathologist by name and may have no information about the importance of pathology within the field of medicine or the degree to which pathologists are involved in their care. Therefore, patients understandably may have questions.
It is important that pathologists are available to patients and their physicians in order to answer these questions, and the best pathologists will take a proactive approach to making sure all billing questions and issues are resolved quickly.
Thus, although pathologists work ‘behind the scenes’ in most cases, they are a valuable part of the healthcare team and play a specialized role that is indispensable in the care and treatment of patients.