Laboratory Management: 2020 Guide - The Future of Digital Pathology
A pathologist, a microscope, and a specimen on a glass slide in a laboratory setting. This is the foundation for pathology and has been for well over 150 years. It remains the preferred method of diagnosis for the great majority of today’s pathologists. But thanks to steady advancements in digital technology, a more efficient and scalable alternative continues to emerge.
In fact, the genie might already be out of the bottle in terms of digital pathology as it’s taken on added importance out of necessity since the outbreak of COVID-19.
On March 26, 2020, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services temporarily waived the requirement for pathologists to perform diagnostic tests in CLIA-licensed facilities. This opened the door for pathologists to review cases and do sign-outs remotely by using digital pathology.
The waiver was enacted to preserve the continuity of patient care while also ensuring the safety of pathologists and other lab personnel by minimizing their risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
Beyond the present safety concerns, the field of digital pathology continues to grow because it offers the option of off-site consultations with multiple colleagues in the field, increased efficiency, and faster turnaround times.
Digitization has also led to the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence for the computer-aided diagnosis of a patient, and technology advances with digital scanners and cloud storage solutions for the data have helped propel the movement forward.
The digital archival and retrieving of specimens is also much easier than attempting to retrieve glass slides from archive shelves, and being able to transmit images over long distances rather than physically shipping glass slides is also a big time-saver.
So, is your lab actively using digital pathology, or is it at least planning to do so in the near future?
In a recent survey of our partner labs, we asked both questions. Here are some of the responses we received:
Are you using, or do you plan to implement digital pathology at your laboratory within three years?
Darlene S. (Project Manager - Tampa, FL) - Yes, the laboratory is fully committed to digital pathology with all cases being fully scanned and archived. The laboratory also applies digital image analysis and AI tools to the practice of pathology.
Stacey G. (Project Director - San Antonio, TX) - Our laboratory supports digital pathology, but not for diagnostic purposes. We are open to the idea of implementing digital pathology for diagnostic purposes within the next 3-5 years.
Shamim A. (LIS Administrator- San Diego, CA) - Digital pathology is something we're currently looking into, especially with any research-oriented cases we're working on. We're in the early stages of the process but it is likely that we will implement this in the next few years.
Pam E. (Billing Analyst - Pensacola, FL) - Yes, on a limited scale. Never on a primary diagnosis but for additional stains, we are piloting our slide scanner.
Potential drawbacks? Yes, there are a few.
One is the reluctance that some pathologists might still feel when contemplating the move away from the microscope. It’s understandable that those trained in traditional pathology might feel more confident reviewing samples in the traditional way. But digital pathology is widely being used as a training tool for future pathologists, so going forward, this likely will not be as big of an issue.
Digital pathology also requires very high quality and high-resolution flies, and this results in enormous file sizes, a potential issue that labs will need to address. Computer upgrades with higher resolution screens will also likely be needed, as will a strong internet connection and a robust LIS for the transfer of the files.
Even with the drawbacks, the consensus among lab professionals is that the subfield of digital pathology will continue to make advances and for most industry professionals, the advantages far outweigh the negatives.
The pandemic has forced pathologists to work from home and removed a major regulatory barrier for them to do so. Is this the new normal? Only time will tell but it’s a good bet that digital pathology is here to stay and a strong alternative to the microscope for labs across the country.
- College of American Pathologist, Remote Sign-Out Cases With Digital Pathology FAQs
- Digital Pathology Association, Digital Pathology FAQ
- Shelley Farra, Digital Pathology Challenges, News-Medica-Life Sciences
- Isis Ricano-Ponce, Clinical Pathology Goes Digital, Clinical Lab Manager
- The Medical Futurist, The Digital Future of Pathology, Medical Futurist
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What’s the point of laboratory information system solutions and best practices if you don’t share them with others?
At LigoLab, we’ve been helping Anatomic Pathology, Clinical Laboratory, and Molecular Pathology laboratories grow and thrive since 2006. Over the past 14 years, we’ve collaborated with some of the most dynamic and forward-thinking laboratories in the country, and over that time we’ve gained an expertise in the laboratory management software domain.
We maintain regular contact with our partner labs and we take great pride in the fact that our platform continues to evolve daily, helping them deliver new and better ways to serve their customers and support patient care. In turn, these same labs are constantly evaluating their own workflows and processes. Nothing is static.
This blog post is the third in a series of posts that have highlighted best practice LIS solutions these labs have employed to better serve their customers and grow their businesses.
If you missed either of the first two posts, click on the links below.
Laboratory Management: 2020 Guide, Part 1: Laboratory Information System Solutions and Best Practices
Laboratory Management: 2020 Guide - Part 2: How Experts in the Field are Utilizing Best Practices to Thrive