The advent of digital pathology has created many opportunities for pathologists, providers and their patients, but implementing its supporting IT infrastructure requires a proactive, well-planned approach.
Steve Merritt, Senior Solutions Director at Pixel Health, recently shared his insights on the technical challenges, workflow integration and other key considerations for maintaining privacy, managing costs and integrating a digital pathology system into existing healthcare facility workflows.
Understanding the growing role of digital pathology
The digitization of histological images continues to accelerate due to ongoing advances with scanners, laboratory information systems, and image management systems along with many other technologies. Pandemic-driven policy and regulatory changes also helped remove barriers for medical professionals to remotely access, review, annotate, sign-out, and archive clinical pathology images and data.
“With digital pathology, rapid access to subspecialists is possible, when needed, and the turnaround time can decrease to reach an accurate diagnosis or inform treatment decisions for patients,” said Steve.
“Coupled with the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) in healthcare, digital pathology systems with advanced software algorithms can help pathologists detect and highlight subtle abnormalities in tissue samples, leading to higher diagnostic accuracy and potentially more favorable outcomes for patients,” he added.
Examining the current barriers in digital pathology
Drawing on his clinical engineering experience implementing imaging and clinical information systems, Steve provided his perspectives on several challenges that healthcare systems face when introducing a digital pathology platform, such as:
- Handling technical complexities: Implementing and maintaining a digital pathology system can be technically challenging. Issues such as image compression, data storage, retrieval, and network performance must be understood and managed.
- Transitioning to a new workflow: Integrating a digital pathology system into existing workflows is not straightforward. It requires developing new protocols for sample processing, digital image capture, and storage. Collaboration with stakeholders is important to minimize disruption to existing workflows and processes.
- Maintaining privacy and security: Digital pathology systems generate vast amounts of data that must be stored securely and protected from unauthorized access. Ensuring the privacy and security of patient data is crucial, and healthcare organizations must comply with various data protection regulations.
- Managing and controlling cost: Investing in digital pathology technology can be expensive with the operating cost of hardware, software, maintenance and implementation as well as the cost of specialized staff and training.
- Obtaining reimbursement: There is a lack of billable CPT codes for the digitization of slides.
Preparing for the future of digital pathology
While reimbursement and CPT codes represent critical value drivers for the ongoing sustainability of a digital pathology program, Steve noted that new, temporary CPT codes, which went into effect on January 1, 2023, are a positive indication that this emerging technology will eventually have a favorable reimbursement scheme.
“For healthcare organizations that are thinking ahead and anticipating reimbursement, I suggest starting at least 18 months before implementation.”
Steve added that each digital pathology solution is designed around a healthcare system’s needs and their performance expectations.
“Analyzing the workflow, designing the implementation and overseeing change management often requires significant effort, and there is no single off-the-shelf product that covers the entire workflow,” he explained. “Our team works with healthcare systems to find the most appropriate solutions that connect medical devices, software platforms and cloud storage services together.”
Please contact us if you’d like to learn more about our capabilities to advise and implement your end-to-end digital pathology strategy.