In todays fast-paced world, fast-paced world, technological advancements have revolutionized various industries, and healthcare is no exception. One significant advancement is the adoption of digital pathology, which involves the conversion of glass slides into digital images for analysis and diagnosis. This transformative shift offers numerous benefits, including improved efficiency, enhanced collaboration, remote consultations, data management advantages, and potential cost savings. This article will explore these advantages, supported by real-world case studies and examples.
One of the main advantages of digital pathology is that it can improve the efficiency and productivity of pathologists and laboratory staff. Digital pathology eliminates the need for physical storage, transportation, and retrieval of slides by scanning and storing slides online, saving time, space, and resources. Moreover, digital pathology enables faster and more accurate diagnosis, as pathologists can access and view high-resolution images anytime and anywhere, zoom in and out, adjust contrast and brightness, and use annotation and measurement tools. Digital pathology also reduces the risk of human error, such as mislabeling or damaging slides.
Case Study: The 2022 article “Integrating digital pathology into clinical practice” by Matthew G. Hanna et al identifies several examples of efficiency gains: “A pilot study from the University Health Network, Toronto showed their digital pathology implementation enabled the ready access of whole slide images to be available for pathologist review between 1 and 4 days sooner than glass slides. This demonstrated a 2-day improvement in turnaround time for final reporting of clinical cases. Their calculated cost savings per year were $ CA131,000 in courier costs, travel, and accommodations. Data from our own institution showed a decrease in turnaround time for reported cases with digital images by 1 day. In addition, a $1.3 million USD 5-year cost savings from digital pathology implementation in comparison to routine glass slide workflows was projected. Centers in The Netherlands with well-established digital pathology adoption assessed various laboratory roles and their tasks in a typical workday and found more than 19 h collectively saved per day using digital pathology. Several institutions in California utilizing a telepathology service currently validated at five centers similarly showed telepathology provided shortened turnaround time and significant financial savings.”
Another advantage of digital pathology is that it facilitates collaboration and communication among pathologists and other healthcare professionals. Using online platforms and cloud-based services, digital pathology allows pathologists to share images and data with colleagues across separate locations and institutions, which enables peer review, consultation, second opinion, quality assurance, education, and research. Digital pathology also allows pathologists to interact with other specialists, such as radiologists, oncologists, and surgeons, to provide integrated and personalized care for patients.
Case study : A study by Al-Janabi et al. (2012) showed how digital pathology enabled multidisciplinary team meetings for breast cancer patients in different hospitals in the Netherlands. (Also, Case Study: The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) implemented a digital pathology system across its network of hospitals. The system allowed pathologists to access and consult on challenging cases remotely. The collaborative platform improved diagnostic accuracy, reduced turnaround times, and enhanced patient care, especially for cases requiring specialized expertise.)
Digital pathology enables pathologists to provide consultations remotely, breaking down geographical barriers and improving patient care in underserved areas. Pathologists can review digital slides from anywhere, reducing the need for physical sample transport and enabling timely consultations. This technology also facilitates second opinions, ensuring more accurate diagnoses and reducing the likelihood of misdiagnosis.
Case Study: A study by Têtu et al. (2014) demonstrated how telepathology improved the quality of care for patients with thyroid cancer in remote regions of Quebec, Canada. (Also, Case Study: The National Healthcare Group (NHG) in Singapore implemented a telepathology program that connected rural clinics with expert pathologists at central hospitals. Pathologists could provide timely consultations by sharing digital slides remotely, resulting in faster diagnoses, reduced patient waiting times, and minimized patient travel costs.)
Data Management Advantages
Digital pathology also offers data management advantages over traditional microscopy. By storing
images and data online or in cloud-based systems, digital pathology allows pathologists to easily search, retrieve, analyze, and archive their cases. Digital pathology also enables artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools to assist pathologists in diagnosis and analysis. AI and ML can help triage critical cases, detect anomalies, classify tumors, quantify biomarkers, predict outcomes, provide 2nd readings, and generate reports.
Case Study: The Mayo Clinic established a digital pathology repository housing thousands of digitized slides. Researchers at the clinic use this extensive database to train machine learning models that accurately predict disease outcomes based on specific tissue characteristics. These insights have paved the way for precision medicine approaches and enhanced patient management strategies.
Digital pathology offers potential cost savings for laboratories and healthcare systems:
• Streamlined Operations: Digital pathology improves efficiency, collaboration, remote
consultations, and data management. These enhancements streamline operations, reducing costs and saving valuable time.
• Cost Reduction: By adopting digital pathology, laboratories can eliminate expenses associated
with physical slide storage, transportation/shipping, and microscope maintenance since having high- capacity digital pathology scanners reduces reliance on having several traditional microscopes, minimizing the need for maintenance, repairs, and associated costs.
• Enhanced Patient Care: Digital pathology enables better treatment decisions and improved
patient outcomes. More accurate diagnoses and efficient consultations reduce clinical costs and
enhance patient care quality.
• Scalability: Digital pathology offers scalability to accommodate growing demands without
significant infrastructure expansions. Laboratories can handle increased sample volumes efficiently, avoiding costly investments in physical resources.
• Additional Financial Benefits: Embracing digital pathology can lead to reduced patient or
consulting pathologist travel expenses. Remote consultations and access to expert opinions without physical travel save patients and healthcare providers money. By embracing digital pathology, laboratories, and healthcare systems can achieve substantial cost
savings while enhancing patient care and improving overall operational efficiency.
The advantages of going digital in pathology are undeniable. Improved efficiency, enhanced
collaboration, remote consultations, streamlined data management, and potential cost savings are just a few of the benefits. Real-world case studies demonstrate the positive impact of digital pathology, enabling faster diagnoses, better patient care, and advances in medical research. As technology advances, the digital pathology revolution holds tremendous potential for further advancements in healthcare and improved patient outcomes.
Blog Author Blog Editor
Brandon Combs Derrick Forchetti, MD
Business Development Director Scanning Services