How Can Digital Technology Solve Pathology?

Many challenges are faced by pathology. There is a shortage of trained pathologists, yet demand is rising and money is tight. Health services need to continue improving outcomes for patients while satisfying the rising demands on their services. Digital pathology offers a solution to this.

People are now living much longer in the developed world as a result of society’s success in treating diseases. However, the human body has not yet evolved to function the same in elder years as it does in youth. According to recent studies, our DNA declines beyond the age of 55 and one of the key issues is our ability to control this. Up until this point, our bodies are extremely good at repairing our DNA. Beyond this, more and more cells are replaced with mutations. The likelihood of cancer is increased when a group of cells whose DNA is slightly different begins to develop in the body1.

Older Patients and More Complex Cases

Over the coming decades, the number of older adults with cancer and other diseases is expected to increase rapidly. This means that the demand for pathology services is also set to increase. This would place great strain on infrastructure, with many pathology departments struggling to keep pace.

Cancer Research UK published the findings of a study that demonstrated a 4.5% year on year increase in the number and complexity of histopathology requests since 2007/08. The majority of these were for cancer screenings. The charity warned that demand would inevitably outstrip supply in the next five to 10 years2.

Departments are already struggling to keep up. The Royal College of Pathologists carried out a workforce census in the UK, which showed that only 3% of NHS histopathology units had the necessary staff to meet increasing demands3. As a report by the BBC discovered this shortage has been leading to serious delays in the diagnosis of cancer cases4.

Colleges are already struggling to train enough pathologists to replace those reaching retirement age. A report looking at trends within graduate medical education identified that, while the number of pathology programs and positions has increased since the 2001 to 2002 academic year, this increase is lower than that of graduate medical education5. Furthermore, many pathology sub-specialties have declined in population-adjusted levels. A significant problem is posed for health services with this looming gap in pathologist numbers.

The Search for Solutions

The report argued that the answer to the problem was to focus more attention on either graduate education programs or new technology. The first is difficult to overcome, as the number of pathologists who can be found and trained at any one time will always be limited. New technology will be key to making the best use of resources available to health services.

An increased focus on digital pathology was recommended by the Cancer Research UK reports addressing some of the sector’s most pressing challenges. Once on the margin, digital pathology is quickly becoming popular with both hospitals and academia.

With digital microscopy, digital images are scanned from slide-mounted tissue sections. These would ordinarily be examined under a conventional microscope. Digital pathologists can access these through secure servers anywhere in the world.

Digital technology is being welcomed as a potential solution to many of the issues facing health services and is expected to grow at some speed in the future. Allied Market Research published a study in which they reported that the digital pathology market is expected to grow from $3,323 million in 2016 to $8,668 million by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 14.8% between 2017 and 20236.

Why is Adoption Slow?

Once a niche idea, digital pathology has progressed to become an increasingly common feature of pathology departments. That being said, adoption has been relatively slow and regionalized with many innovators being forced to accept losses on their investments.

What is Changing?

Value-based healthcare is now a key topic of conversation. Health services face spiraling costs with finite resources, which has forced them to investigate options that will provide the best results from the limited resources available to them.

This attitude has highlighted some of the disadvantages of conventional microscopy. Slides need to be shared manually, which can lead to delays if the courier can't send them or they have to be sent internationally. This is prone to error and relies on even more trained pathologists.

With the conventional approach, a microscope is required to view a glass slide and will only show one side and one field of view at any time. To view another slide, the pathologist must remember the information from the first slide.

Meanwhile, slides can be viewed side by side on a computer with digital pathology. Images can be quickly scanned and shared with remotely based teams using software that can also help with analysis. Digital images are easily integrated into a lab data storage system, which allows for further learnings, analysis, and education.

It is surprising, given the above, that digital pathology has not advanced further by now. While the evidence demonstrates that it works and delivers lasting value, cost and practical implementation are familiar obstacles that are difficult to overcome. Much depends on how technology is integrated with existing systems and the attitudes of pathologists and administrators.

References

  1. We Lose Control of our DNA From the Age of 55: http://sciencenordic.com/we-lose-control-our-dna-age-55
  2. Testing Times to Come? An Evaluation of Pathology Capacity Across the UK: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/testing_times_to_come_nov_16_cruk.pdf
  3. College Report Shows UK Wide Histopathology Shortage: https://www.rcpath.org/discover-pathology/news/college-report-finds-severe-staff-shortages-across-services-vital-to-cancer-diagnosis.html
  4. Pathologists Shortage Delaying Cancer Diagnosis: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-45497014
  5. Trends in Pathology Graduate Medical Education: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5881980/
  6. Digital Pathology Market Predicted to Reach $8,668million by 2023: https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/press-release/digital-pathology-market.html

About Grundium

The Grundium Ocus does away with physical slide transfers between the clinic and the lab and enables live telepathology consultations between surgeons and pathologists.

The Grundium Ocus is a monumental leap in digital pathology. It is a precision tool, and is small and affordable enough to be on every medical professional’s desk. It is truly portable and can be brought anywhere. Wireless connectivity means telepathology is now possible practically anywhere on the planet.

Key Benefits

The Grundium Ocus is a game changing enabler of personal digital microscopy. It brings the global pool of pathology experts to you and it makes looking at sample slides convenient even off-lab.

The Grundium Ocus is your personal microscope scanner to make daily work faster and easier.


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Last updated: Mar 26, 2020 at 12:22 PM

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