Digital Pathology: Why Total Throughput Trumps Scan Speed Every time

At present, the Hennessey Venom GT is the world’s fastest production car with a top speed of 270 MPH, which is a remarkable engineering feat. With a $1.2 million price tag and a long waiting list, owning such an expensive car may be admired by on-lookers, but a professional driver as well as a long straight way is a must to drive the car at that top speed. Driving the car through town at a speed of 35 MPH is a waste of the 1451 hp and 1287 lb.-ft. of torque.

Like automakers, whole slide scanner vendors often quote top scan speeds because these speeds somehow signify the throughput of the scanner under normal operation. However, the actual scan speed of a typical slide scanner possessing a top scan speed of 60 slides per hour, for example, is somewhere in between 20 and 25 slides per hour, after considering all other factors influencing throughput. This article discusses the three major factors that inhibit total scanner throughput and the ways for improving the total scanner throughput.

Re-scanning or special treatment is required during scanning

Special attention is required for the following slide conditions when an average scanner is used:

  • Scanning faint tissue often poses a challenge to the scanner. During configuration, the preview camera of the scanner may not detect the tissue accurately and as a result, the correct area of interest may not be set up. This results in missed tissue, thus necessitating rescanning of the slide.
  • If multiple barcodes are present on top of each other, the slide can become too thick for scanners equipped with robotic handlers to manage. This can cause rejection and necessitate rescanning.
  • Scanners equipped with fixed-position barcode readers find it difficult to scan when barcodes present in two different positions
  • Scanners featuring robotic slide handlers often face problems with the globs of mounting medium on the slide
  • Manual scanning is an ideal option over robotic style slide scanners for labels that are overhanging the slides or are not sticky
  • Slides with chipped glass need to be scanned manually or recut

The need for extra time in slide preparation

Most of the slide scanners are designed to handle pristinely prepared slides with minimal variability. However, the real-world scenario is different. When shifting to digital workflows, additional time is required for lab staff to minimize the variability in preparation so that the throughput of the scanner can be optimized. Although not normally considered a factor in total scanner throughput, the efficiency of the workflow is directly affected due to this additional preparation time.

Scanner downtime during preview and setup

A critical step to ensure proper imaging of all sides is scan preview and setup, which can be time-intensive and represents 10-20% of scanner throughput every day. As a result, instead of performing image acquisition, the expensive investment (the medium to high throughput slide scanners) remains inoperative during configuration. Moreover, capturing low-resolution preview images not only wastes power of these scanners but also reduces their overall throughput.

Improving total scanner throughput

The first step is one should look beyond raw scan speed and understand that the total scanner throughput is actually a function of scan speed as well as the aforementioned factors. The next step is to seek a whole slide scanner with the below features:

  • A tray-based slide holder capable of handling
    • slides with chipped glass
    • different slide thicknesses due to multiple barcodes
    • labels that may not be sticky or overhanging the slide
    • slides with globs of mounting medium
  • A full slide, image-based barcode reader capable of reading barcodes, irrespective of their position on the slide
  • The capability to scan faint as well as clear tissue to achieve successful scanning
  • The capability to off-load slide previewing and setup so that the scanner can scan at the maximum speed and resolution with the highest uptime

About Huron Digital Pathology

Based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, Huron Digital Pathology has a 20 year history designing sophisticated imaging instrumentation. Our end-to-end digital whole slide imaging solutions for digital pathology incorporate our award-winning TissueScope™ digital slide scanners; TissueView™ image viewing, sharing and management platform; and our workflow-enhancing accessories, which include our innovative TissueSnap™ preview scanning station.


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Last updated: Mar 28, 2019 at 9:12 AM

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