Around 95% of all healthcare treatment processes rely on access to pathology1 from initial diagnosis of disease, to assessing how a patient responds to treatment and ongoing monitoring.
Yet histopathology – the examination of tissue under a microscope – is often described as the last analogue department in the hospital. There has been little investment in empowering histopathologists with new tools and ways of working.
In the UK, the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (UHCW) is now harnessing the power of technology to transform pathology services. They are using the OmnyxTM Integrated Digital Pathology system (available in Europe and Canada for routine clinical diagnostic use2) which allows pathologists to view tissue samples in high resolution on their computer screens and from any location around the world.
Once these tissues have been processed onto slides, the Omnyx Digital system is able to scan these slides into the pathology computer system so the pathologist can access them securely from another site.
Today, tissue slides have to be physically taken to the pathologist, or the pathologist has to travel to view them. This can result in delays, risks slides being lost or damaged and makes collaboration difficult. Digitizing images and using software to connect pathologists can help minimize delays and make collaborations between healthcare professionals easier and quicker.
The move to digitize tissue slides and introduce new ways of working for pathology comes at a time when the UK’s health system, the NHS, is under unprecedented pressure. Like healthcare systems worldwide, the UK population is aging, chronic conditions are rising, cancer is increasing and budgets are hugely stretched.3
It is hoped that this initiative at UHCW could help deliver savings in pathology for the NHS and become a model for other NHS hospitals. The transfer of histology images between centers for specialist reporting and second opinion is seen as a key strategy in streamlining the pathology service and providing a better patient experience.
Connecting pathologists in this way is good news for patients. Quicker diagnosis means treatment can start sooner. And it makes it easier to get the opinion of disease subspecialists no matter where they are in the world, helping improve diagnosis. As cancer treatment becomes ever more precise, this is particularly important.
The hope is that once enough slides have been digitized, computer algorithms can then be designed to assist in tasks such as tumor grading. Prostate cancer, for example, has potentially ten grades of tumor. Currently, pathologists grade the tumor using a microscope and their experience. A second opinion is then obtained from a colleague. That tumor grade is a major factor in deciding which treatment option the patient will undergo.
Dr David Snead, Consultant Histopathologist and Clinical Service Lead for CWPS and UHCW NHS Trust said: “We expect digital algorithms will greatly improve consistency of grading and It may be in the future we find the optimum cut off for radical surgery is a tumor grade 6.3 and above rather than 7, so that we are able to refine our advice and offer a more individualized level of care to patients.
“This is where pathology has wanted to get to for years and it’s extremely exciting that we are launching this first step here in Coventry.”
Omnyx, LLC is a joint venture of GE Healthcare and UPMC.
1. References NHS England National Pathology Programme Digital First: Clinical Transformation through Pathology Innovation page 6, http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/pathol-dig-first.pdf
2. OmnyxTM products are for in vitro diagnostic use for specific clinical applications, and are intended for research use only on other applications.
- Omnyx DPS and VL4/VL120 are CE Marked under the European Union’s ‘In Vitro Diagnostics Devices Directive’ for routine diagnostic use.
- Omnyx DPS and VL4 are licensed by Health Canada for routine diagnostic use.
- Omnyx DPS and VL4 are 510(k) cleared only for Manual Read of the Digital HER2 Application on the Omnyx IDP System in the US.
3. NHS England National Pathology Programme Digital First: Clinical Transformation through Pathology Innovation page 6, http://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/pathol-dig-first.pdf