The future of digital pathology

Philips Healthcare

By Kees Wesdorp*
Monday, 25 April, 2022

The future of digital pathology

As we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer doesn’t stop, and any delay in the diagnosis and treatment in oncology care can pose a high risk to patients.

The rapid adoption of digital pathology services has been critical in ensuring the continuation of clinical services during the pandemic, with pathologists able to conduct primary diagnoses from home while also protecting themselves and those around them.

Throughout the pandemic, the pathology department experienced a significant transformation at a scale not seen before in the field. In fact, digital pathology — the acquisition, management, sharing and interpretation of pathology information in a digital environment — has ‘come of age’ over the last two years, with research from Signify indicating the market saw 40.9% growth year over year in 2020.

Health providers and CMIOs are increasingly focusing on pathology within their wider digitalisation strategies, enabling a fully digital care solution to speed up the processing of viewing slides to help enhance decision-making. While challenges lie ahead, the power of virtualisation and the ability to connect with other teams, coupled with advances in AI, mean digital pathology is key to a new paradigm of diagnostic precision.

The power of virtualisation and care orchestration

One of the main challenges pathology departments face is an increasing shortage of pathologists. In addition, pathologists are spread across multiple locations while trying to be subspecialised to provide the right expertise for difficult cases. This creates a complex workflow, where slides must be distributed optimally to the pathologists across the system, balancing workloads, but also targeting the right cases to the right experts. Complicating matters, once acquired digitally, pathology data is growing exponentially, housed in disparate systems and scattered across various departments. This lack of a fully integrated, interoperable and secure set of harmonised systems keeps data, clinicians and workflows siloed and inefficient.

Enterprise-wide digital pathology solutions are able to tackle this issue head on with technology designed to accommodate current histopathology needs for routine use in high-volume labs and integrated pathology networks. Through virtualisation and better care orchestration, cases can be routed anywhere within the network to be read, scaling access to specialists, optimising workloads and decreasing the rate of interpretation errors conducted by non-subspecialised pathologists.

Virtual networks also enable pathology departments to moderate the impact of increased caseloads as a result of the pandemic by enabling efficient diagnoses and facilitating the speedier transfer of complex cases for second opinions. Connections to other teams also provide the opportunity for pathologists to collaborate with multiple professionals, helping to improve knowledge transfer and learning opportunities.

Enabling AI in pathology for deeper insights

Digital pathology also opens the door for artificial intelligence (AI) and automated tools for reading slides to help empower clinicians to deliver clear care pathways with predictable outcomes for every patient.

AI-powered workflows have the potential to provide a continuous pathway, where critical patient data is made visible to both pathologists and oncologists more rapidly, helping improve the clinician experience and enhance patient care. This will be particularly important in the years ahead, as the industry balances workforce shortages with the need to meet the increasing demand for pathology services and the ongoing impact of COVID-19.

The key to a new model of diagnostic precision is bringing together multiple diagnostic insights within the healthcare continuum — like radiology, pathology and genomics — at critical states along a patient’s journey. By providing pathologists with the interoperability and connectivity to share high-quality images, utilise new technologies enabled by digitisation (such as AI) and expand diagnostic insights across networks, they will become key stakeholders in the data-driven healthcare systems of the future.

Learn more about Philips Digital Pathology here.

*Kees Wesdorp is the Chief Business Leader of Precision Diagnosis at Philips.

Reposted with permission from HealthCare Business News.

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