Pathology Update

UK’s NHS to Build Five New Digital Path and Imaging Centers

Facing a shortage of histopathologists, NHS may want to use digital systems and AI to speed diagnoses

TO SHORTEN THE TIME FOR CANCER DIAGNOSES, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) will open five new digital pathology and imaging centers that will use artificial intelligence. The digital pathology and imaging centers will open in Coventry, Glasgow, Leeds, London, and Oxford.

Last month, the UK government announced that it will invest £50 million ($68.9 million) in the five centers. The money comes from a fund that aims to bring together representatives from academia, the charitable sector, and industry. Those involved in the project say the goal is to transform digital diagnostics in healthcare to benefit patients by streamlining and modernizing these processes.

The UK is suffering through a severe shortage of anatomic pathologists (which in the UK are called histopathologists). The shortage delays cancer diagnoses. iNewsreported that in July, the National Health Service recorded its worst cancer treatment waiting times when more than 3,000 people had been waiting more than two months to start treatment for cancer. NHS has set a target for 85% of patients to begin such treatment within 62 days of getting a referral from a general practitioner.

Few patients in the United States would tolerate such long wait times to learn their cancer diagnosis and start treatment.

It could be that the announcement last week to open five new digital pathology and imaging centers is one way to make the current number of pathologists more productive at diagnosing cancer cases. If so, then the government is betting that combining digital pathology technology with artificial intelligence can help reduce the  backlog of cancer cases awaiting diagnoses. For pathologists in the United States, this experiment in the use of technology is worth watching to see if the use of such technology does in fact improve the speed of diagnosis and increase pathologists’ productivity without compromising accuracy.

Investing in Digital Pathology

In the U.S., HealthITNews reported that companies working with the Northern Pathology Imaging Cooperative in Leeds said that, in addition to the £50 million investment from the UK government, the cooperative would invest £7 million ($9.08 million) in the program. Dr. Darren Treanor, a pathologist with the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, is leading the initiative.

“This new northern cooperative will allow us to use digital pathology to help patients across the region, and provide a platform on which we will develop artificial intelligence tools for pathology diagnosis to be used around the world,” Treanor said.

The UK investment in these five centers could be an example of government efforts to show UK citizens that the government is doing something to solve the problem of long delays for cancer diagnoses, even if these centers will not begin producing diagnoses for at least a year or more.

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