Pathology is a medical science branch that deals primarily with the study of the disease. It supports all aspects of patient care, from diagnostic testing and treatment advice to the use of cutting-edge genetic technologies and disease prevention. We have seen significant reduction in diseases such as polio throughout the world over the last 100 years, as well as significant progress in blood transfusion, vaccination, and treatment of inherited conditions. This is all because of pioneering pathologists' work and medical system digitization.
The practice of converting glass slides into digital slides that can be viewed, managed, and analyzed on a computer monitor is digital pathology, also known as virtual microscopy. The advantage of digital pathology is that digital scanners and computer software can electronically process, analyze, and share digital tissue images with the doctors or a team of doctors across the world. The increasing prevalence of cancer and the increasing adoption of digital systems by pathology laboratories are expected to be the key drivers of growth in the digital pathology market. The global digital pathology market size was valued at $401.2–$470m in 2018, and is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 7.7%–8.5% during the forecast period 2019–2025.
Digital pathology, the examination of slides on computer workstations has long been recognized as an important tool in education and research in healthcare. Almost 20 years have passed, since the commercial introduction of whole-slide imaging (WSI) scanners. The creation of different WSI devices with the ability to digitize a whole glass slide has transformed the pathology field during this time. The recent approval of the first whole-slide imaging device for primary diagnosis in the U.S. has led to an increase in the interest in digital clinical pathology for primary and secondary diagnoses.
Digital photography has significantly changed the face of the pathology report, allowing colored prints of the gross specimen and relevant microscopic characteristics to be incorporated. More importantly, digital pathology is thought to rectify the obstacle to slide storage and sharing. The most popular applications of digital pathology in current use are research and quality assurance for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. Practice with direct clinical use of digital pathology was less widespread, but 31% of departments in the U.K. reported using digital slides for primary diagnosis and 36% for secondary diagnosis in a proportion of cases.
In addition to improving the current practice, the evolution of the digital medium has opened up several applications for histopathologies such as telepathology (TP), image technology with three dimensions (3D), and perhaps future automated machine vision systems. Numerous digital imaging applications are emerging in pathology, such as image analysis using algorithms, in conjunction with computer-assisted diagnostics and 3D imagery, which have improved the field of biomedical computer science.
- Standards harmonization, improved interoperability with clinical imaging and electronic health records
- The decreasing number of consultant pathologists worldwide and computer pathology's potential to increase pathological diagnosis
- Cloud technology is increasingly available and costs for storing, sharing, and managing native digital pathology images are reduced
- In precision medicine, digital pathology can play a leading role
- Consolidation of networks of healthcare providers and the creation of centralized pathology centers
Market Growth Factors
There has been an increase in digital pathology services over the last five years. Healthcare providers therefore conclude that this can save them time and costs. The advantages of digital pathology over conventional pathology include short diagnostic time, easier access to slides, and slide mix reduction, which is one of the major growth factors for global digital pathology. The growing implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and cost savings related with the application of digital pathology are among other factors that are vital to the growth of the global market for digital pathology. Pathologists increasingly prefer digital pathology as it speeds up diagnosis, increases diagnostic accuracy, and provides therapeutic recommendations to improve the patient outcomes.
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The market for digital pathology is facing headwinds, which have reduced the market potential and limited the market growth. The process of persuading pathologists to abandon traditional microscopes for digital scanners and software viewers was slow at its most basic. Many healthcare providers and clinical laboratories have gradually approached digitization, choosing to use digital workflows only for certain diagnoses of pathology, or have adopted digital pathology for secondary use, such as in clinical education or secondary examination.
The lack of regulatory approval before 2017 for the use of digital scanners and pathology software in the U.S. has stalled the adoption of the market. As a result, several high-profile suppliers have left the market. There are few problems that cause caution and concern about digital pathology, and they all return to technology. Computer hardware is one of the most important factors in the implementation of digital pathology.
The digitization of pathology practice opens the door to the use of artificial intelligence's huge potential in the field however, the first step in this is digitization. In today’s digitalized world, the number of active pathologists in the field are decreasing. According to recent studies, the number of active pathologists may decrease by 30% compared to the active number in 2010, due to the fast-growing digital technology. Because of the rapid changes in digital imaging methods in recent years, pathology fields have transformed faster than other medical specialties. In the near future, digital pathology technology will certainly be better and more affordable.
Some of the major key players in the field of digital pathology are 3DHistech, Inc., Omnyx, LLC, Olympus, Corporation, Leica Biosystems, GE Healthcare, Definiens, Philips Healthcare, Objective Pathology Services, Ventana Medical Systems, Inc., LigoLab LLC, and Hamamatsu Photonics, Inc..
Major Research Lab and Institute Using Digital Pathology Technology
- Royal College of Pathologists
- National Health Service
- The University of Edinburgh
- UC Davis Medical Center
- University of Michigan
- Aiforia Inc.
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