One question that anyone who works in the digital pathology space inevitably encounters is: “What are the actual benefits of digital pathology?” While pathologists and labs have grown increasingly comfortable with the concept of telemedicine and digitizing slide information in the last decade, some skeptics still remain. Meanwhile, for those outside the field, both the idea and the value proposition might be entirely new.
Luckily, in many ways, it is quite easy to explain the benefits of using digital pathology because they are so obvious and so measurable.
Proponents can lead with how teleconsultation provides immediate relief for the global pathologist provider gap. Scanners and cloud-based slide sharing platforms allow healthcare providers in low- and middle-income countries to access the knowledge and care resources of high-income countries when diagnosing patients in under-resourced areas. Moreover, global demographics are shifting such that the UN projects up to 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. With these changes, many regions would be left behind entirely if it were not for digital pathology making it possible for clinicians to consult and diagnose remotely.
Benefits for Education
From the standpoint of pathology education, the ability to scan, store, archive, and share historic, fragile, or rare slides creates an opportunity for medical students and clinicians around the world (or even within one institution) to access the same material, as though learning in one virtual classroom. Digitizing slides allows for unprecedented standardization across pathology curriculum in ways that were previously impossible.
These are all general, high level digital pathology benefits, but what about for the local lab? After all, a lab manager or hospital administrator wants to know how digital pathology can bring valuable improvements for their organization today.
Benefits for Hospitals
That question is also readily answered. Daily benefits of digital pathology for hospitals and hospital networks include the ability to expand their service reach, provide more specialties, cut down on wait times and scheduling woes, and decrease the costs associated with moving both slides and people. With the click of a button, hospitals with WSI scanners can create a virtual slide to be shared with experts anywhere for a rapid second opinion. Pathology labs whose scanners are enabled for remote microscopy can further decrease consultation costs and wait times by having remote pathologists read live slides without traveling onsite. (Yes, you really can do consults via slide scanner this way!) All of these workflow improvements for hospitals ultimately translate to improving patient outcomes with faster, more accurate diagnoses.
Benefits for Pathologists
And for individual pathologists, the daily benefits of telepathology translate to a huge quality of life improvement! For pathologists within large hospital systems, the lab now comes directly to their desks or home offices. Virtual slides also allow junior or rural doctors to request a second opinion from mentors or field specialists without having to ship slides. From a pathology workflow perspective, digital slides can reduce fatigue and render a better image at higher ultimate magnifications than would be available through a microscope alone.
Benefits for Research
As for research labs seeking ways to improve pathology diagnostics, high-throughput WSI slide scanners are creating the enormous data set needed for machine learning. Some may ask, “With the rise of digital pathology, will human and veterinary pathologists soon be out of a job?” But contrary to their fears, training AI to pre-screen for cancers and other diseases is one of the most exciting developments to come out of digital pathology in recent years. AI poses significant possibilities for improving global health outcomes in the years to come.
Want to learn more about how digital pathology can benefit your lab environment? Contact us and let Motic Digital Pathology help you find the right solution today!