Imagine a surgeon getting the results of their patient’s tests in the operating room. The diagnosis received moments after the tissue samples are collected.
This situation is an exciting new reality of modern pathology. It’s where medicine meets science, meets cutting edge imaging and data sharing.
Pathologists diagnose illness and disease. These doctors detect the vast majority of cancers. If a microscope can locate an illness, a pathologist is likely involved in its detection.
Modern pathology is being transformed by telemedicine. New imaging techniques, some of them in real-time, are advancing the field. Read on to learn more.
Modern Pathology: How We Got Here
The study of disease has been with us for as long as the rise of civilizations. There are ancient Egyptian references to pathology written on papyrus. Hippocrates and the ancient Greeks tried to find the root of many afflictions. The Alexandrians attempted human dissection to further the body scientifically.
The study of pathology was helped along by European and Arab men of science. But it was the development of microscopes that expanded the research by leaps and bounds.
Thomas Hodgkin (1798-1866) was one of the first physicians to describe a disease in tissue through the use of a microscope.
However, pathology’s advance was furthered not so much by the work of any one person but by leaps in technology and disease detection.
Powerful microscopes were crucial to developing modern pathology. Advances in chemistry and our understanding of the human body also helped.
In an article written by Jan G. van den Twee and Clive R. Taylor, the authors say the twentieth century accelerated the study.
Telemedicine and telepathology are taking the practical application of pathology in exciting directions.
Telepathology uses advances in telecommunication to push the study into three new areas. Image-based systems, virtual slide systems, and real-time systems are these areas.
Why Use Telepathology?
Dr. Ron Weinstein is credited for coining the term telepathology in a 1986 paper. He was also the first doctor granted patents in telepathology and robotic telepathology.
Telepathology speeds up the delivery of samples. This delivery is accomplished through modern telecommunication technology, often in real-time over the internet.
Pathologists can speed up their opinions because they can refer their work to specialists for a second opinion.
The cost and savings are other significant factors for the explosion in telepathology use.
The digital revolution has streamlined information delivery systems. It has reduced redundancies and cut the costs of physical photography, shipping, and filing.
Virtual Slide Systems
With virtual slides, you can take entire histopathology slides and evaluate them from a remote location. You can also copy these glass slides. Then, transfer them into a high-resolution digital image. The digital slides contain an incredible amount of information and detail. There are very few apparent differences in the information you can convey.
Also, the digital image contained in the slide doesn’t age, so the pathologist can review the original sample at any time – even if it’s only for research.
Lastly, you can back-up virtual slide systems. And you can easily store many virtual slides in various locations. If one set of data is corrupted or destroyed, then you can call upon your digital back-up. From there, you can retrieve the virtual slides.
Image-based systems work just like virtual slide systems. Yet, the pathologist examines digital images captured from a physical slide. And the image is transmitted the same way as above.
In the future, these virtual slide systems might be used to create 3D images. These displays would allow pathologists to see more of the samples. They could move and zoom the images on their screens. These 3D images would help pathologists develop a better understanding of a disease.
The use of multi-spectrum imaging is also merging with virtual systems. These types of images would show the image in new kinds of light.
One of the most revolutionary and futuristic features of modern pathology is the use of real-time systems.
Imagine a robotically controlled microscope zooming in on tissue or a tumor by an operator from a distant location. It’s not science fiction, but the current state of telepathology.
This fully-functioning robotic microscope zooms in on the sample. Then a digital camera transmits images to a specialized pathologist or microscope operator. Or both. Then the specialist gives his opinion. Within minutes after the determination, the doctor and patient could be discussing treatment options.
These robot microscopes are also equipped with microphones. So the surgeon, the pathologist, and the robot operator can take part in the tissue examination in real-time.
You can transmit these digital images from the microscope. The data is encrypted and stored on a server. Or you can convert the live pictures to a digital slide for later examination. You can keep the digital material just like paper medical records.
Telepathology: Tomorrow’s Today
Forensic pathology accounts for about 1% of pathologists working today, according to the Royal College of Pathologists. The American Medical Association lists more than a dozen specialties in clinical and anatomic pathology.
Telemedicine is transforming these fields so that pathologists don’t need to stare over microscopes at glass slides. They can work with robots controlled from vast distances and analyze data on high-resolution monitors to help people.
The number of cancer cases inspected by pathologists increased by 41.73% in the U.S. between 2007 to 2017, according to a study published on the JAMA Network.
Telepathology, with its increased diagnostic, imaging, and robotic capabilities, are helping modern pathology become the model for cutting-edge telemedicine.
For more information on telemedicine and telepathology solutions, contact us today.