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The evolution to digital pathology

What to look for and avoid in choosing a whole-slide imaging slide scanner

Pathology laboratories worldwide are determining how to best build out their digital workflow strategy. Laboratories increasingly recognise the medical value efficiencies that come from digital and the long-term benefits of a fully integrated and efficient pathology workflow. The question is: Where to begin to create a solid foundation for future success?

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First steps for firm footing

A logical place to begin is to determine which type of scanner or scanning throughput will meet your needs.  If the goal is to move to full lab digitisation then look for a scanner with a whole-slide imaging that offers high-volume automation. This is a scanner capable of:

  • A large field of view and high quality images
  • High throughput to enable fast processing of high caseloads
  • Customisable pathology workflow tools, including annotation features and multi-slide view
  • Integration with a case management workflow solution to support remote diagnosis, second opinions as well as deep learning and machine learning image analysis algorithms.

 

There are several whole slide scanner options. But which will aid the pathologist as the ideal counterpart to—and, ultimately, replacement for—the microscope? Two factors are critical: Excellent imaging and high reliability.


A case for excellent imaging

Pathologists leading the digital revolution appreciate the distinction between a good image and an outstanding one. For those who are reluctant to leave the microscope, the image has to quickly tell them what they need to know without distracting colour fidelity issues. 

Image resolution is also a key consideration when pairing low-volume scanners with high-volume scanners. To support flexible workflow management and build in redundancy, it is important to make sure the image is exactly the same from scanner to scanner. This will establish and maintain pathologist confidence in what they are seeing—regardless of the scanner they use.

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The time-savings power of high reliability

Slide handling within any instrument can be challenging. A robust design on a slide scanner helps ensure reliability and image quality with consistent whole slide imaging—no matter who is handling the slides.

Digital slide scanners typically offer either a tray-based or rack-based design for slide processing. A tray-based system allows slides to move through the scanner with minimal handling, reducing the chance of breakage or rescan needs due to wet or misaligned coverslips. The rack-based system allows for direct insertion of slides from the staining instrument to the slide scanner, but also the need for additional handling and more robotics which increases the risk of failure of parts that could require repair and would cause downtime.

A slide scanner with low reliability or recurring rescan requirements may lead to downtime and cause disruption of the workflow. Consider whether a tray or a rack design is preferred based on your staining workflow and willingness to rescan slides.


Future-proof your investment

Interoperability is essential in any instrumentation strategy. Factor in these points:

  • Will a scanner work as part of a larger, open ecosystem?
  • Does it support digital pathology workflow software and image analysis algorithms?
  • Are the images high quality enough to support future applications, such as image analysis algorithms?

Some slide scanners are part of closed systems and, as such, may limit a lab’s ability to create a fully digital, flexible environment to address all use cases. Determine if the scanner solution will support your lab’s needs now and in the future.


Envision expanded efficiency

The global pandemic elevated the need for remote, digital peer-to-peer collaboration. Lab budgets constraints and staffing challenges, from hiring to retirement, will continue to drive the need for a more strategic laboratory workflow.

A digital pathology solution fuels efficient remote diagnosis and case sharing for second opinions. Furthermore, the digital pathology workflow establishes a high-quality foundation for managing increasing case volumes with the latest in precision medicine tools.

Whole-slide imaging scanners are the building blocks of an advanced end-to-end digital pathology solution designed to enable highly efficient, more personalised healthcare. 

It is also important to not think about your digital pathology solution in isolation, but also how that solution will integrate with your total end to end Histology workflow, and integrate with your laboratory information system (LIS).