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Digital pathology can offer several potential benefits for patients when implemented effectively. Whether it is “better” than traditional pathology depends on various factors, including the quality of workflow integration and the initial learning curve. This article outlines how digital pathology can enhance patient care while also shedding light on some hurdles and potential drawbacks.

How Digital Pathology Can Benefit Patients

1. Faster Diagnosis and Second Opinion Turnaround Time

When pathologists and labs are not co-located, digital pathology enables the immediate distribution of slides without transport delays. It also reduces delays for recuts and special studies. Further, by allowing for first-in, first-out lab flow (without requiring cases to be kept sorted), lab workflow can be streamlined. Digital pathology also enables faster and easier access to remote consultations with local colleagues and experts. 

When asked how often he uses digital pathology for second opinions in a recent podcast, Dr. Hillel Kahane shared “Probably once a week. You can invite as many people as you want to look at the case. It’s that just, you know, that’s how pathologists learn from each other. Literally anywhere you are, you can share cases with colleagues. And that’s invaluable, to be honest with you.” 

2. Improved Accuracy

Digital pathology systems allow for AI-based image analysis tools that can aid pathologists in identifying abnormalities and quantifying features. With a variety of AI algorithms to choose from, pathologists can use AI as another set of eyes for quality control checks, to enhance efficiency by automating certain processes, and to potentially improve diagnostic accuracy.

3. Ready Retrieval of Archived Material

Digital slides can be easily archived and retrieved, making it faster and, therefore, more likely for pathologists to compare historical material to current cases. Timely access is often a barrier to practical use when dealing with glass slides stored on-site and, especially, off-site.

4. Simplified Molecular Test Ordering

A benefit specific to Lumea digital pathology, physicians can enjoy simplified and streamlined molecular test ordering. The Lumea platform enables conditional molecular test ordering, which can improve testing yield, reduce molecular test turnaround time by half, and ensure that patients don’t fall through the cracks. Getting more patients appropriately tested and getting those results to patients faster helps ensure prompt treatment, potentially improving patient outcomes.

However, it’s important to note that the benefits of digital pathology for patients depend on the effective implementation and utilization of the technology. 

Challenges and Potential Drawbacks

1. Initial Learning Curve

The transition to digital pathology will require pathologists and healthcare staff to learn new technology and workflows, which will likely temporarily reduce efficiency. However, overall turnaround time will improve until it (typically) surpasses that of traditional pathology. Pathologists may still want access to glass slides until they gain trust that their skills are not diminished by the new technology. 

Though the learning curve will vary from practice to practice, some labs and pathologists have made the transition incredibly quickly. In one example, it only took Dr. Todd Randolph 5 minutes to feel comfortable reading out digital cases.

2. Technical Issues

Technical problems with digital systems can disrupt the diagnostic process, potentially causing delays. When comparing digital pathology vendors, ask how they will handle potential technical issues and ensure adequate redundancy to minimize downtime.

3. Data Security

Ensuring the security and privacy of patient data in digital pathology systems is crucial. Inadequate security measures could pose risks to patient confidentiality. Digital pathology vendors can provide documentation to prove compliance with HIPAA, HITECH, and other relevant requirements. If that documentation isn’t satisfactory, you should get clarity from their Information Security Officer. An important note: Your practice will be responsible for the compliance and security of the devices you use for pathology, such as securing work computers and keeping passwords safe.

In summary, digital pathology can benefit patients by improving the speed, efficiency, and potential accuracy of diagnoses. However, its effectiveness in improving patient care depends on how well it is integrated into the healthcare system, the proficiency of pathologists and healthcare staff, and the applied safety measures to ensure data security and quality control. The decision to adopt digital pathology should be based on the benefits and potential challenges to guarantee the best outcomes for patients.

Would you like to learn more about how digital pathology can improve patient care? Read about how four pathologists were enabled to provide better patient care when using Lumea technology.

Would you like to try it today? Try Lumea’s Viewer for free.

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