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Inside the Lab Digital and computational pathology

Show Me the Money!

I’ve noticed that more conferences on digital pathology are starting to pop up; no surprise when you consider manufacturers clearly believe there is a commercial benefit to investing in new technologies, otherwise they wouldn’t make the effort. Moreover, radiology has successfully gone digital, so why not pathology? Based on the growing attendance at these niche events, it’s clear the appetite among lab professionals is there. But you know what isn’t? Money.

Digital technology isn’t a new phenomenon, but its implementation in pathology is – and it certainly is slow. Why? Probably because the return-on-investment argument is unproven. As scientists, we know that to “prove” (or at least propose) anything, we must provide supporting evidence. And cost versus benefit evidence is severely lacking – undoubtedly a huge barrier.

I’ve noticed that more conferences on digital pathology are starting to pop up; no surprise when you consider manufacturers clearly believe there is a commercial benefit to investing in new technologies, otherwise they wouldn’t make the effort. Moreover, radiology has successfully gone digital, so why not pathology? Based on the growing attendance at these niche events, it’s clear the appetite among lab professionals is there. But you know what isn’t? Money.

Digital technology isn’t a new phenomenon, but its implementation in pathology is – and it certainly is slow. Why? Probably because the return-on-investment argument is unproven. As scientists, we know that to “prove” (or at least propose) anything, we must provide supporting evidence. And cost versus benefit evidence is severely lacking – undoubtedly a huge barrier.

I was at a digital pathology congress in London this month, and though there were the usual informative presentations on the value of digital technology, they were balanced by some refreshingly honest talks on the very real challenges. In his keynote lecture, Paul van Diest stated (more than once), “The business case is thin”. Strong words. However, van Diest also believed the efficiency gains were obvious and said “digital pathology is good pathology” – in other words, the decision to digitize is a no brainer for a high quality lab. Sadly, “to build a business case, you need to use a lot of words and a lot of paper to convince people to pay for it. So I just didn’t bother and we’re doing it anyway.” But finding alternative funding isn’t so easy for everyone; what about those labs – probably the majority – that need to grovel to the purse-string holders?
Rest assured, evidence is on its way. Recently, I was chatting with Alexi Baidoshvili, pathologist and project director of the digital pathology team at LabPON (1).

Baidoshvili’s lab in the Netherlands was the first to run a 100 percent digital histopathology service, and he tells me that he’s begun gathering the evidence to build a strong argument in favor of digitization. In fact, he’s hoping to present it for the first time at a London event in May 2016. We’ll be sure to report on it as soon as the data are available, so watch this space.

In the meantime, the benefits of digital technology will continue to wow conference-goers and hopefully supply many a good reason to force fund-holders to part with their cash because, in the words of van Diest, “pathology is worth it [so] show me the money!”

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  1. A Baidoshvili, “Making the Move to 100 Percent Digital”, The Pathologist, 13, 40–42 (2015).
About the Author
Fedra Pavlou

After graduating with a pharmacology degree, I began my career in scientific publishing and communications. Now with more than 16 years of experience in this field, my career has seen me heading up editorial and writing teams at Datamonitor, Advanstar and KnowledgePoint360 group. My past experiences have taught me something very important – that you have to enjoy working with, and have respect for your colleagues. It’s this that drew me to Texere where I now work with old colleagues and new. Though we are a hugely diverse team, we share several things in common – a real desire to work hard to succeed, to be the best at what we do, never to settle for second best, and to have fun while we do it. I am now honored to serve as Editor of The Pathologist and Editorial Director of Texere Publishing.

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