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.
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.
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.
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.
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.