OBJECTIVE: Clinical management of liver diseases is often based on the interpretation of the pathologist examining liver biopsies. Many pathologists have little formal training and experience with these tissues. The magnitude of this problem is not determined yet. The goal of this study was to determine the diagnostic discrepancies that surfaced after a second opinion by experienced hepatopathologists interpreting liver biopsy tissues. METHODS: All 178 consecutive liver biopsy tissue glass slides provided to hepatology consultants in 1996 and 1997 were selected for evaluation. Specimens with neoplasms, transplant-related indications, or those specifically referred by a community-based pathologist for consultation were excluded. Diagnosis and interpretations were compared with the reports from the original institutions. Discordant interpretations were grouped in major (description or diagnosis that would change management decisions) and minor (not likely to alter management) categories. Monetary cost of the pathology studies was analyzed. RESULTS: A total of 125 specimens corresponding to 124 patients met inclusion criteria. Thirty-five (28%) and 47 (37.6%) biopsies had major and minor discrepancies, respectively. Full agreement was obtained in 43 (34.4%) cases. Fifteen (42.8%) of the major interpretation errors were on patients with chronic cholestatic disorders, nine (25.7%) with hepatocellular processes, and 11 (31.4%) were related to establishing the presence or absence of cirrhosis. Reviewing the 125 liver biopsies of this study by the consultants resulted in a 46% increase in monetary cost. CONCLUSIONS: Practitioners making clinical decisions based on liver biopsy interpretation need to be aware that in a significant number of cases, pathologists are not able to arrive at a correct diagnosis, and thus seeking second opinions on the patients' behalf from experienced pathologists on liver diseases would be prudent. General pathologists should become more familiar with the abnormalities involving interlobular bile ducts and the diagnostic value of certain ancillary histological stains. Clinicians should provide pathologists with sufficient clinical information in terms of laboratory evaluations and clinical findings, so that accurate diagnosis might be facilitated.
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