Digital pathology: turning challenges into opportunities
The age of digital pathology is upon us. It is the wave of the future, increasingly gaining momentum today. And while it opens up many exciting new opportunities for the medical practice of pathology, it also presents some very real challenges.
Do you feel those challenges? Do you worry that digital advancements may render your role obsolete? Do you want to do all you can to ensure your lab remains essential? Then read on. We’ve convened experts to help guide you.
Contributing Lab Leaders
- The challenges you face with digital pathology are legitimate—but can easily be turned into opportunities
- Adapt intelligently by stretching your comfort level without breaking it
- Digital pathology can facilitate more meaningful interactions with clinicians and help you pursue a more consultative role
Director of Anatomic Pathology and MLab
University of Michigan
CEO and Medical Director
Mosaic Prime, LLC
It’s all in your mind
First know this: if you are a traditionally trained pathologist struggling with pixelated images or fumbling with mouse movements that feel unnatural it is all in your mind.
Consider Julia Dahl’s view on the subject.
No wonder you’re struggling with digital pathology. The digital interface is like a foreign language. Your neural pathways have never been trained to understand it. Gone are the tactile sensations that were part of your very identity as a pathologist. The click of glass on the stage. The sharp edge as you drive the slide. The twist of the knob yielding perfect image resolution in milliseconds.
In short, the challenges you’re struggling with are perfectly legitimate.
So what do you do? Try to selectively adapt to digital pathology. If it negatively impacts your diagnostic accuracy, stick with glass slides. That’s what Julia Dahl does. She can get her work done five times faster with glass. So she adapts intelligently, sticking with what works best for her and digitizing images later.
Make "adapt intelligently" your mantra. But understand there are important adaptations you will have to make to turn challenges into opportunities.
A double-edged sword
One of those adaptations is to become more interactive with clinicians and patients. That means getting out of the lab and onto the floor whenever possible. Face-to-face interactions lead to more meaningful relationships.
But digital pathology is a double-edged sword. It can cut off vital relationships with clinicians. Before, you may have been consulting with them over slides in your lab. Now, you talk about digital images over the phone. You can’t make eye contact, read body language, or develop a relationship.
And yet, digital pathology offers incredible advantages. Take a tumor board as an example. Instead of pulling slide trays, the lab staff simply retrieve digitized images. Images that can be pulled from any location and shared with people in different time zones. "Digital imaging in pathology is doing what PACS (picture archiving and communication system) did for radiology," says Julia Dahl.
And in those cases when face-to-face interactions are not possible? Digital pathology can also help—if you wield it right.
Have the courage to consult
Digital pathology may further commoditize the collection of specimens and the production of images. It could even render such work obsolete at many local labs. In one model, the work might be centralized at a high-volume regional lab. Digital images would then be sent electronically to local diagnosticians.
Scenarios like this can engender fear. Having the courage to consult is the appropriate response to such concerns.
"Suite talk" your way to success
So how do you get started on the road to a more consultative role? Jeff Myers recommends you first gather data from a series of small pilot studies. This will help you make the case to your C-suite.
For an example of a pilot program, read "How labs can optimize test-ordering patterns in oncology".
As you prepare that case, find out what matters to your C-suite. A well-thought-out strategy may garner you the support you need.
Turn your challenges into opportunities
It’s all in your mind – recognize that your challenges are legitimate, and often a function of how your neural pathways have been trained
Adapt intelligently – change with the times, but stick with the tried-and-true when it works best clinically
Become interactive – embrace every opportunity to engage with clinicians and patients, for the benefit of all
Be consultative – pursue opportunities to be part of the clinical consultative team, throughout the continuum of care
Speak the language of your C-suite – understand the metrics they’re looking for and construct pilot programs accordingly