A Brief Guide to Getting Started with Digital Pathology

Scott Rayburn
By Scott Rayburn | February 18, 2020

At Proscia, our work doesn’t stop at developing software to perfect cancer diagnosis and accelerate research breakthroughs. We also act as trusted consultants and advisors, helping customers successfully implement our Concentriq digital pathology software into their new and existing lab technology ecosystems.

Over the years, we’ve seen nearly every possible iteration of implementation, from the plug-and-play integration with existing hardware and software to the ground-up creation of a brand-new digital lab. Now, we’re sharing some of the best practices we’ve discovered along the way helping our customers get started with digital pathology.

Whether it’s in a clinical or research environment, it’s likely that the implementation process won’t be completely linear, but there are clear, critical steps to ensuring the foundation you lay for the future of pathology is successful. Here’s a checklist in loose chronological order:

Find your internal and external champions.

Chances are, you’re not alone in wanting to make the leap to digital pathology. Find champions who share your vision — pathologists, lab leaders, executive decision-makers, and representatives from vendors who understand the benefits of digitization and are willing to break the status quo to make it happen in your lab. These champions, both internal and external to your organization, are critical to making the adoption of new technology successful for your lab. Identify them as early on in the process as possible and engage them often as you work through the steps that follow.

Outline the business goals you hope to achieve.

Be specific and realistic. Are you looking to impact turnaround times? Make it easier for pathologists to collaborate and give second opinions? Reduce the lab-wide misdiagnosis factor? All of these goals and more are attainable, but it’s vital that you lay them out and align with champions and stakeholders on how to achieve them.

Engage with your team of pathologists.

While the decision-makers might sit outside of the lab, it’s the pathologists who will be impacted most by the transition. Talk through your goals with the team. Listen to and understand their perspectives and potential concerns. Pathologist buy-in is 100% necessary in order to adopt digital in your lab. Remember, it’s ultimately your pathologists’ work, as they are the ones putting their names on the diagnoses.

Consider how AI and automation can factor into your lab’s workflow.

That’s right — AI is real, and it’s available now. Beyond that, digital pathology systems do a great job of automating some of your pathologists’ most time-consuming manual tasks. Could your lab stand to introduce automation into the case sorting and assignment process? Or use AI-enabled viewing software to provide a second opinion during case review? Or give your pathologists a helping hand in identifying potential misdiagnoses? It’s all possible now thanks to automation and AI.

Find your software partner.

While the whole-slide scanner takes you from analog to digital, the software is what enables you to create value and interact with the digital pathology system on a day-to-day basis. That’s why we recommend selecting your software partner first, because getting that right will help you understand how many scanners you actually need, what kind of workflows you want to accommodate, and more.

Find a digital pathology software partner who understands your final vision and offers all of the products — specifically the digital pathology platform and the AI modules —  and services to get you there, integrating with all of your lab technology at every step. Make sure the workflow, image viewing and management, and collaboration capabilities are top-notch, and that the company will be there to support you as your lab grows and evolves.

Select your scanners.

Pin down a whole-slide image scanner model that integrates with your lab environment and image viewing/management software. If you don’t already have scanners, consider factors like how many slides you’ll be scanning per day, what the throughput of the scanner needs to be to accommodate this workload, and how easy the system is to use both in isolation and alongside your software. Finally, make sure the scanner company is committed to working with you and your software partner to achieve the business goals you’ve outlined for your lab.

Think about how you’ll scale for the future.

Even as you’re initially adopting digital pathology technology, it’s important to do so with the future ideal state in mind. When choosing the above partners, be cognizant of how the software and scanners they offer perform under stress as your operational needs will grow and change over time. Ask for hard numbers in terms of how many images, users, and sites can be supported, and focus on how the systems interoperate with others you might add in the future. If you make the right choices, it won’t be difficult to scale digital pathology across the organization.

Prepare for the necessary changes to your physical lab environment.

Consider the repercussions of bringing new equipment into your lab. Do you need to move materials, or remodel to create more space? Be sure to account for adequate computers and video cards, cooling systems to avoid overheating, and humidistats to correct condensation issues. Lastly at this stage, finalize agreements with scanner and software companies, and work out installation details with your IT department.

Outline the validation steps.

Define the ways you can evaluate the effectiveness and efficiencies gained by going digital. Work through all the details and vet them with your organization prior to implementation. For help with this, associations like CAP and CLIA provide excellent guidance on the validation and implementation of new technologies within a lab.

Roll out the new digital process in your lab.

Finally, all your hard work starts to pay off! During this stage, you’ll likely be viewed as the resident expert on digital pathology, so be ready to answer questions from a variety of stakeholders and users. Also, be pragmatic in your approach, which could mean pursuing a phased rollout — one to three labs at a time, for example — for larger hospital systems with dozens of labs. This way, you’re able to learn and improve the process as you go along.

Conclusion

So there you have it — a brief guide to getting started with digital pathology. With digital pathology’s proven advantages like increased workflow efficiency, enhanced collaboration capabilities, and streamlined image and data management, implementation is a worthwhile challenge that, once completed, will transform your lab for the better while improving patient outcomes. Add in the power of AI to supercharge digital pathology, and you’re looking at something completely revolutionary.

Need help getting started? Contact us today to see how Proscia and our Concentriq digital pathology platform can help you on your journey.

New to digital pathology? Learn how whole slide imaging is changing the industry here.

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