Aim: To measure pathologist workload in subspecialty dermatopathology.
Methods: Three subspecialty dermatopathologists, working in a university-affiliated laboratory, participated in a time-motion study during which they reported 2891 consecutive skin cases received from community-based dermatologists. All pathology reports were retrospectively reviewed and workload measured using the Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) guidelines and the Level 4 Equivalent (L4E) method.
Results: The majority of dermatopathology cases were scored as low (32%) or intermediate (52%) complexity using the RCPath matrix. Only 16% of cases were considered high or very high complexity. The mean RCPath score per case was 2.68 units. Using L4E complexity levels, 83% of specimens were Level 3, 15% were Level 4, and only 2% were higher complexity (level 5 and 6). Mean values for specimens/case, blocks/case, and slides/case were 1.31, 1.52, and 2.92, respectively. Time-motion analysis demonstrated a mean workload per hour of 16.3 cases, 21.3 specimens, 45.1 slides, 43.0 RCPath units, and 12.2 L4E. All three dermatopathologists reported >35 RCPath units per hour.
Conclusions: The RCPath histopathology workload guidelines underestimate the workload achievable by an experienced dermatopathologist, and thus are not directly applicable to subspecialty dermatopathology practice. Hourly work rates 3-4 times that recommended by the RCPath workload matrix are routinely achievable but extrapolation to yearly workload estimates requires detailed knowledge of practice pattern and time required for non-clinical duties such as teaching, research, and administration.