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Inside the Lab Digital and computational pathology, Software and hardware, Laboratory management

Digital Pathology Enables Improved Performance Analytics

Workflow automation, remote access to expertise, the ability to search repositories and get results automatically – all of these improvements and more are possible with modern digital pathology software.

But there’s one advantage of digital pathology that hasn’t received as much attention: new insights into laboratory performance and operations. Next-generation digital pathology platforms track analytics at the slide, case, pathologist, and laboratory levels, providing information that is central to understanding lab throughput, quality, productivity, and profitability. These analytics reveal trends over time while providing a “finger-on-the-pulse” view of what’s happening in the present, potentially helping to eliminate costly bottlenecks and improve profit margins.

But how exactly do these analytics populate in real time and why are they important for improving day-to-day operations? Take a step back and consider the complex, multi-step pathology case lifecycle. Each step presents a potential bottleneck where time can be lost, creating pressure on the lab’s limited resources and increasing the amount of time it takes for a patient to receive a diagnosis.

Digital pathology provides an opportunity to automatically track every step of a case from accession to archiving.

Digital pathology provides an opportunity to automatically track every step of a case from accession to archiving. Although labs previously had overview information from their laboratory information systems relating to case accession and sign-out, the movement of that case through the lab – particularly while it sits with the pathologist – is largely a black box without the performance analytics provided by a modern digital pathology system.

The routine case work performed by laboratory medicine professionals in the digital pathology platform results in a detailed case tracking log that provides real-time visibility into case status for lab managers. This visibility can help identify process pain points and sources of inefficiency throughout the case’s life cycle. As changes are made within the lab to address these bottlenecks, an analytics dashboard, which centralizes aggregate information, monitors how those modifications impact lab productivity and quality. It also becomes much easier to track down overdue cases as well as report on the current status of any case and of overall resources within the pathology lab. What’s more, there’s no longer a black box around what happens between case accession and archiving.

The overarching goal of performance analytics is to supply labs with the data they need to improve operations over time. Based on the trends they discover, labs can set goals, standards, and best practices to ensure that the lab processes and workflows of tomorrow are better than today’s.

Lab managers spend about 75 percent of their day, once a week, tracking the status of missing or incomplete cases and determining what needs to happen next.

I recently sat down with lab leaders from a large US-based hospital system and spoke about what they saw as the potential impacts of performance analytics in their multi-site lab system. They told me that lab managers spend about 75 percent of their day, once a week, tracking the status of missing or incomplete cases and determining what needs to happen next. Then, once a month, they manually report on the performance of the laboratory, detailing how many cases each pathologist read, the types of cases they saw, the efficiency of the pathologists, how lab processes were performing, and the impact of any changes on these processes. It’s a time-consuming process that likely isn’t the best use of the lab’s resources.

Their eyes lit up when they realized that the oversight of lab operations could be significantly streamlined with access to performance analytics, along with case tracking and global search. They could then spend more time focusing on optimizing their bottom lines and growing margins in the face of building market pressures.

In my view, analytics-enabled digital pathology couldn’t have come at a better time. As pathology labs grapple with shrinking pathologist populations, decreasing reimbursements (at least here in the USA), and the rising volume of biopsies requiring diagnosis, streamlining and process improvement are more important than ever before.

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About the Author
Nathan Buchbinder

Chief Product Officer at Proscia Inc., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.

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