Health IT/HIMSS Spotlight: Digital Pathology and Implications for HIT infrastructure

by Molly True
February 22, 2018

Traditionally a pathologist would have spent their entire career behind the microscope looking at samples from patients in a single hospital. Now pathologists must collaborate with an entire care team to ensure the best treatment possible. Fortunately, advances in HIT infrastructure are ready to make the collaborative process a lot easier. Same thing for the basic process of sitting down in the lab to review samples.  It’s all changing with at least one manufacturer of a digital pathology system being approved by the FDA for primary diagnosis last spring. And this is likely just the first of many to get approved in the years to come.

Digital transformation marches on in healthcare IT

The precedent for digital transformation in pathology began with the digitization of radiology in the 1990s, an event that dramatically changed that space. While it may have seemed logical at that time, the digitization of pathology did not occur because glass slides were considered an efficient, cost-effective way to store tissue samples. More importantly, the infrastructure to support it was barely a blip on the horizon. Digital storage was far more limited and expensive then compared to today and even worse, the network hardware and connectivity required to transmit such graphically/data intensive image files didn’t exist (this was after all the early days of the web when dial-up was still a big thing). In the 90s, 300 whole slide images that were digitized with a 10 Mbps transfer rate would take 3 days to transmit. Today that process would take only 4 minutes.

Implications on network and storage infrastructure

Mayo Clinic noted that “an estimated 60-70% of all decisions regarding a patient’s diagnosis, treatment, hospital admission and discharge are based on laboratory test results.” So it’s important to look at every aspect of care and to realize that digital transformation’s impact on pathology will ultimately have a huge impact on patient care. The digital transformation journey is just now beginning for pathologists and is not just limited to individual patient care. The untapped data for data mining and analysis within those tissue samples to analyze trends and affect population health is also a huge opportunity.

While taking advantage of it all was technically and/or financially unfeasible/impossible until a very short time ago, the technology to deliver and store digital pathology files has now caught up with the promise it holds for practitioners and patients alike.

That said, few HIT environments currently have the computational, storage/data warehousing and network infrastructure to access, share, archive and handle the increased demands of data elements 30-60x larger than digitized radiology images.

The path to digital pathology starts at HIMSS18

The approval of digital pathology for primary diagnosis, combined with a reduced cost of whole genome sequencing, stands to change our thinking of the size and context of patient records. And we’re finally at a point where the technology to deliver on the promise – including tremendous advances in network infrastructure such as SD-WAN and cloud connectivity solutions – has caught up with the diagnostic technology itself.

This promises to be a hot topic at HIMSS18, March 5-9, 2018, and will certainly be so for our health IT team at Windstream Enterprise. Those interested in planning a path to digital pathology are invited to:

WE look forward to seeing you at HIMSS18.