Digital pathology: reshaping diagnosis

Pathology, which is considered to be one of the most important pillars of the healthcare system, is showing tremendous potential by speeding up the workflow and interpreting accurate results with the support of advanced technology.

The existing rapid transformation in healthcare models and increase in demand of value care is driving healthcare experts to adopt cloud-based healthcare models which can improve healthcare operations.

Digital pathology has started adopting newer trends to improve the functioning of the entire healthcare system. The new concept of outsourcing the slides and data for consultation has made it much easier to provide virtual pathology services. This facilitates and encourages discussions with other specialist pathologists for a better and second opinion. This is undoubtedly creating a huge impact on the current healthcare scenario.

Hospitals and diagnostic centres have started using novel treatments and new drug developing techniques to support doctors with the early treatment of patients. Physicians wait for the biopsy reports to be delivered by the laboratory and expect accurate results to determine the right therapy for their patients. With the adoption of digital pathology, the process has been accelerated and made affordable to all patients.    

Replacing the old technique of laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for a final diagnosis with the new digital technique means it has now become completely image-based information, which is retrieved with the help of computer technology. This technology enables us in receiving virtual microscopic view in a digital format. These images are later viewed, shared and analysed on a computer, which is monitored by physicians. This method of analysis is currently regarded as one of the most promising avenues for diagnostic medicine.

There are different types of imaging techniques adopted to monitor the accurate results of patients for further treatment. Static imaging is considered to be simple, cheap and captures the image with microscope-mounted cameras. The images that are screened are static and therefore cannot give a detailed report. On the other hand, robotic interactive telepathology (RITPath), allows the pathologist to control the movement of the slides on the stage of the microscope and to see the image in ‘real time’ on a high-resolution monitor even by fellow pathologists across the universe.

The implementation of digital pathology will inevitably bring in new change and a paradigm shift from an analogue to a digital working process. The main idea for introducing this technique was to encourage the pathologist to spend more time on making a better diagnosis.

Turnaround time

A huge benefit is the improved TAT (turnaround time) and the preservation of the original colour and differentiation of the different structures as it was on day one of the slide even after many years. In the present context, fading of the colour of the tissue sample remains a challenge, thereby affecting its availability for any further analysis.

With the active use of digital pathology, pathologists sitting at any location can finalise and review the reports without tampering with the images while saving crucial time, as the slides will no longer have to be physically shipped from one site to the other. In addition, it can be archived for later use.

For example, based on the requirement and severity of the case, if the reports need to be ratified by more than one pathologist, it can be done easily by sharing the digital material across the world to any specialist in just a few seconds.  

In today’s age, pathologists are doing an incredible job of studying and analysing the reports of patients to find the right treatment. With the help of accurate data, pathologists can put their best foot forward to find better results for their patients.

This emerging trend of shifting to a digital model is also bringing massive opportunity to the digital pathology market. The new treatment method, operational efficiency, affordability, better patient care are driving forces behind this model, revolutionising the healthcare system in India and across the globe.

Hope this method of communication will take a much bigger leap and be made available in small centres across the world for a faster and more appropriate final histological diagnosis; be it a benign tumour, a pre-malignant lesion or a bad cancer.

(Vasudev Rao is Director, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Divya Rao is consultant pathologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bengaluru)

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Digital pathology: reshaping diagnosis

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