Medico-legal problems experienced by histopathologists differ from those of other clinicians as they are rarely in direct contact with patients. Nevertheless, the pathologist owes a duty of care to the patient and is liable for medical negligence. In the absence of local guidelines, it is prudent to follow guidelines published by learned Colleges elsewhere. This is also true when delegating duties to non-pathologists, technical and other support staff. Errors in diagnosis and documentation pose the most common problems in histopathology. In this, liability also depends on many factors including the provision of adequate clinical information by clinicians and competence of laboratory staff. Clinicopathological discussions, participation in quality assurance programmes and adherence to standard operating procedures are important audit activities to minimize and detect errors as well as prevent grievous outcome to patients. Issues also arise over the retention of specimens and reports. In general, wet, formalin-fixed tissues should be kept until histopathological assessment is finalized and preferably after clinicopathological sessions, and even longer if there is potential litigation. Reports should be archival. Paraffin blocks should be kept for at least the lifetime of the patient, and histology slides for at least 10 years, to facilitate review and reassessment. Despite adverse publicity in the foreign press over the use of human organs and tissues for research and education, it is accepted that processed tissues can be used for research and educational purposes provided the patient's identity is kept confidential. Nevertheless, it would be prudent to revise consent forms for surgery and autopsies to include the possibility that tissues removed can be stored or used for research and education. Good medical practice in pathology encourages a willingness to consult colleagues when in doubt, but advises that the treating clinician be informed if histopathological material is referred away for a second opinion. The Telemedicine Act of Malaysia (1997) requires practitioners outside Malaysia providing diagnosis through telepathology to hold a certificate to practice telemedicine issued by the Malaysian Medical Council. It is likely that the medico-legal scene in histopathology will change in the coming years with the advent of other new ancillary investigative techniques.
* Title and MeSH Headings from MEDLINE®/PubMed®, a database of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.