The Final Barrier to the Digital Pathology Revolution
A last how-to on overcoming obstacles, fostering community, and paving the way for the future
Asa Rubin | | 3 min read | Opinion
In the final part of our “Barriers to Adopting Digital Pathology” series, we speak on bringing the digital pathology revolution into practice.
The previous articles in this series have discussed some of the obstacles that prevent departments from converting to digital, as well as the progress that has been made to alleviate them. After two decades, digital pathology is within reach for more departments than ever before. Yet, there is still work to be done. Moreover, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every department has its own needs and requirements, its particular use-cases for digital pathology, and its own unique challenges and constraints. While one department may be banging its head against a homegrown laboratory management system, another may be struggling simply to find space for the scanners. This individuality bears emphasis. When every department must forge its own path toward a digital solution, it becomes one final, inescapable hurdle to overcome – not just for any single department, but for digital pathology as a whole.
Fortunately, as digital pathology has matured, so too has the digital pathology community. After years of trial and error, pathologists and vendors have not only developed a wealth of experience bringing digital pathology into an active lab, but they have also gone to great lengths to disseminate this information as widely as possible. Today, articles and white papers, lectures and webinars, and even one-on-one phone calls are available to guide entrants past spec sheets and untested projections to realistic expectations and viable roadmaps. For departments starting their digital pathology journey, this information is invaluable. It not only provides confidence that they can navigate the myriad of choices and decisions needed to create a digital lab, but also demonstrates that they are not alone in this process. There is, in fact, an entire community ready to back them up.
At the same time, whereas digital pathology was once largely the domain of large academic centers and reference labs, more and more vendors have now made efforts to address the needs of smaller labs. Smaller, cheaper scanners with lower throughput have entered the marketplace, as have live-view remote microscopes, which bring many of the benefits of digital pathology without requiring anywhere near the same amount of investment. These new technologies offer more alternatives for departments that may lack the resources of larger institutions, making digital pathology a more realistic option.
Many, if not most, pathologists believe that digital pathology will one day replace the glass slide. However, it remains unclear exactly when that will happen and what that path toward full adoption will look like. Consolidated hospital networks, an impending pathologist shortage, disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence – it’s hard to say what will be the most influential factor to persuade departments to go digital. However, the digital pathology community is what will inexorably propel digital pathology forward. By bringing together the various stakeholders – from regional labs to community pathology groups to hardware and software vendors – this community has the potential to develop solutions for any laboratory, making pathology a truly digital field.