Digital pathology is an image-based information environment that is enabled by computer technology to allow for the management of information generated from a digital slide. It is enabled in part by virtual microscopy, which is the practice of converting glass slides into digital slides that can be viewed, managed, and analyzed on a computer monitor. With the advent of whole-slide imaging, the field of digital pathology has exploded and is currently regarded as one of the most promising avenues of diagnostic medicine to achieve even better, faster and cheaper diagnosis, prognosis and prediction of cancer and other important diseases.
Digital pathology also holds the promise of interconnecting pathologists around the globe in ways that will advance diagnostic accuracy and improve patient outcomes.
In pathology, trained pathologists look at tissue slides under a microscope. The tissue on those slides may be subjected to staining to highlight structures. When those slides are digitized, they then have the potential to be numerically analyzed using computer algorithms. Algorithms can be used to automate the manual counting of structures, or for classifying the condition of tissue such as is used in grading tumors.
This could reduce human error and improve accuracy of diagnoses. Digital slides are also, by nature, easier to share than physical slides. This increases potential for using data for education and consultations between two or more experts.
The technology is not yet approved by the FDA for primary diagnosis. Unlike digital radiology where the elimination of film made return on investment (ROI) clear, the ROI on digital pathology equipment is less obvious. The strongest ROI justification includes improved quality of healthcare, increased efficiency for pathologists, and reduced costs in handling glass slides.
Thus the high cost of implementing this technology is slowing adoption of these systems by smaller private pathology groups. It is estimated that around 1,000 pathology labs worldwide own and use digital pathology systems on a regular basis.
Smaller organizations often believe they must engage in full adoption, which means digitizing all cases and every glass slide, then reading all the images on a monitor. Partial adoption is also possible, though, and new technology is expected to allow smaller pathology groups to go digital via a cloud-based pathologist workflow solution.