Digital pathology – time to get serious

Dr Bethany Williams – Digital Pathology Fellow, Lead for Clinical Training and Validation, Leeds Digital Pathology Project, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust




As we enter 2018, it’s a great time to reflect on the current state of play regarding clinical digital pathology adoption.

2017 was in many ways a breakthrough year for the discipline – we saw the Food and Drug Administration approve the first whole slide imaging device for primary diagnosis in the USA, the publication of new digital pathology guidance from the Royal College of Pathologists, and direct recognition of the importance of digital pathology adoption as part of the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy.

I was pleased to see this recognition of digital pathology’s importance, as it confirmed previous work that I had been involved in as part of the NCRI’s Cellular Molecular Pathology (CM-Path) initiative; we conducted a national survey to understand more about digital pathology use and attitudes within the pathology community in the UK.

This survey found that 58.5% of pathology departments ranked investigating digital deployment in their institution as high or highest level priority. The major perceived benefits driving this level of interest were improvements in diagnostic efficiency and turnaround times, and improved collaboration within the department.

In the UK, cellular pathology requests are increasing by 4.5% year on year, with specimens requiring ever more complex assessment to meet the requirements of the evidence based cancer datasets of the Royal College of Pathologists. Coupled with increasingly challenging cancer turnaround targets, this escalating workload is already putting pressure on pathology services. The problem is compounded by an international recruitment and retention crisis in pathology.

Digital pathology has the potential to alleviate some of the pressures faced by the modern diagnostic departments, offering a flexible platform for safety, quality and efficiency improvements, whilst future-proofing pathology services and allowing closer matching of reporting capacity and demand.


The results of the NCRI CM-Path survey suggest that 2018 is going to be a big year for clinical deployments. Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is in the midst of a major research based clinical deployment, and has already digitised breast and neuropathology. At the Trust, we are using an evidence-based approach to try to develop best practice in digital training, validation and reporting. Our one day Digital Pathology Deployment Workshops have been oversubscribed with clinical pathology representatives eager to find out how to take the first steps towards digital reporting.

Digital pathology IS COMING to a department near you! For me, the question is: how can we, as a professional community ensure we capitalise on the innate benefits of a digital reporting system, without compromising patient safety and quality standards? I look forward to seeing how laboratories and diagnosticians adapt to the challenges of digitisation, and evolve new ways of working to best match the needs of the patient populations they serve.


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