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Does digital pathology just create more work for histology lab staff? The short answer? Yes. Perhaps the better question is this: is digital pathology worth it even though it creates more work for histology lab staff? The answer to this question is: it depends. Adding the digital component certainly helps keep labs relevant, but is that all? Let’s dive in!

How does digital pathology add to a lab’s workload?

Once a slide is coverslipped the lab sends it straight to the pathologist. The pathologist may request re-cuts, additional stains, or consults, and a surgeon may request ancillary testing, which will require more work from histology technicians. 

However, labs that have transitioned to digital pathology must take several more steps in the pre-analytical phase. Now, after coverslipping, the histology technician has to prepare the slide for scanning, which includes cleaning the glass surface. Then, they load it into the scanner rack, approve a snapshot image to verify focal points, make necessary corrections, and begin the scan. This process can be significantly sped up or slowed down depending on the scanner size, quality, and capabilities and whether or not it fulfills the lab’s needs.

When the scanner completes its cycle, the histology technician verifies that the images are successfully “stored” digitally, and then they file away the physical glass slides. Some digital pathology solutions can automatically sort and assign cases to pathologists, but others require manual sorting. This capability may save the lab facility some time if they typically have to mail slides out to multiple locations or pathologists.

Other negative impacts of digital pathology on histology labs include technical challenges and significant upfront setup costs for acquiring the necessary hardware, software, and training staff.

However, while digital pathology will increase the technical complexity of specimen processing and costs for the lab, it can also benefit labs and open channels downstream for pathologists.

How can digital pathology benefit a lab?

Aside from helping a histology lab stay relevant in this ever-changing and advancing world, there are a few other ways a lab can benefit. 

First, with the FDA pushing into laboratory testing, digital accuracy, and error tracking will become paramount. The advancement and automation of lab processes usually lead to a greater ability to standardize processes, which can improve patient safety. 

Second, digitization can save some time if pathologists are remote, negating the need to ship glass slides. Pathologists can also perform digital slide retrievals on past cases and request second-opinion consults without requiring labs to locate and ship slides.

Third, digital pathology simplifies the creation and sharing of educational materials. This can expedite the training of new staff and provide continuous education opportunities for histotechnologists and pathologists.

Finally, some digital pathology options come with machine-learning tools that can save time and increase quality assurance. For example, Lumea’s BxCam® is an AI-assisted gross measurement tool that can auto-detect and measure small tissue biopsies requiring a greatest dimension and quantity of pieces. With Lumea’s user-friendly and open API framework, the software seamlessly integrates with and auto-populates information into any existing Laboratory Information System (LIS).

While digital pathology offers advantages, it’s important to note that the extent of the benefits depends on factors such as the quality of the digital infrastructure, proper training of staff, and the effective integration of digital pathology into existing lab workflows. The successful implementation of digital pathology can result in a more agile and responsive histology lab.

Knowing that going digital can add cost and strain to a histology lab, Lumea created pre-analytical tech to help mitigate the downsides. This tech can significantly benefit a histology lab and pathologist, especially when paired with digital pathology. Lumea has produced a variety of these tools to increase lab efficiency, reduce costs, and improve histology. These tools include the BxBoard®, BxChip®, BxCam®, and more. Learn more about Lumea’s tissue-handling tech today!

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