In seven years the digital pathology industry is projected to be worth $1.86 billion. This forecasts the market size to register at a CAGR of nearly 12 percent.
But what does this growth mean for the pathologist?
Technological improvements like computerization, digital communications, and imaging will be the key drivers of market growth. But will this make human pathologists obsolete?
Here’s the truth about the role of the pathologist in the future of digital pathology.
Blood-drawing robots, exoskeletons, augmented reality diagnosis, synthetic organ tissues − it’s exciting to go down the rabbit hole of possibilities for the future of pathology.
But we’re far from that kind of digital transformation going mainstream. Today, we focus on technology that improves the core processes of the pathology practice. Those being improving the speed, capacity, and open-sourcing of the industry.
It’s difficult to track how successful a pathology practice is. But technology develops the ability to track and simplify key performance indicators. Like diagnostic accuracy and overhead costs of a practice.
Advanced algorithms could create a better way to connect the dots. This improves a pathologist’s ability to diagnose and treat illness. Computers can be more efficient ways to cross-reference studies. A Computer can scan data better than a pathologist. This improves a pathologist’s ability use historical information and archives to solve problems.
Processing and storing images is one of the most redundant and time-consuming parts of the practice. But digital scanners or “virtual microscopy” enhance capturing digital slides. The also improve the editing, archiving, and sharing processes.
Although the concept of this technology isn’t new, modern software can analyze digital slides. Instead of a pathologist manually analyzing, labeling and organizing slides, programs laced with artificial intelligence can do the work for pathologists.
Technology presents the opportunity to advance the capabilities of molecular pathology. Primarily in the ability of programs to classify and sequencing of diseases, like malignant tumors.
Computing improves the precision of many aspects of pathology it touches. It does this by removing the possibility of human error. It simplifies complex and time-consuming operations. This gives pathologists more space for innovation and problem-solving.
One of the most promising areas for digital pathology is the capability of machine learning to predict disease outcomes. However, the dependability of technology like this is not near its full potential.
Digital pathology isn’t a replacement to the pathologist, it’s an enhancement. Not only to the practice but to the individual pathologist and the industry.
Some of these advancements include:
- Revolutionizing the way we treat cancer and what we know about it
- Improving the time and accuracy of diagnosis
- Greater management and effectiveness of lab staff
- Automizing tedious tasks without sacrificing the quality of work
- Enhanced collaboration and sharing via virtual meetings and cloud components
- Digital storage can transform the workspace of the laboratory
- Making the discipline more quantitative
A study by JAMA Network Open in 2019 found that the number of active pathologists decreased by 17.5 percent between 2007 and 2017. This makes pathologists a “limited asset“ according to the report.
This data spotlights a lack of talent and supply in the pathology and medical industries. Demand is only likely to increase. This shows how technology can step in to supplement this marginal gap in a role of support versus a takeover.
Advanced technology will relieve the monotonous task-load from pathologists. So that they can use their talents where it counts.
Think of digital pathology and new technology as a new employee. Some might view a newcomer as a threat. But, tactful workers find ways to use the unique talents of a new staff member to improve their output and make their jobs easier.
Artificial intelligence is still a far way off from being teachable. There’s no replacement for experience. Digital programs might be able to process data faster than a human. But, there still isn’t an adequate replacement for the creativity and critical thinking capabilities of the human mind.
A study in 2019 found that cyber-terrorism, tracking of personal data, and identity theft are Americans’ top fears. So it’s unlikely that patients will be ready to interface with technology instead of a human doctor anytime soon.
Computational programs always seem perfect, until they’re not. There are always exceptions to the rules and unforeseen circumstances that risk the accuracy and performance of technology. For example, if you’re using image atomization software that uses color to label and store slides, and you’re using a monitor with color problems, your data could be inputted incorrectly.
Digital pathology will be able to streamline complex processes. But then it comes to complex decision-making, humans will continue to be the industry’s leaders well into the foreseeable future.
As we rely on software to discover patterns in the behavior and growth of disease, a human will be necessary to make the final call. The human pathologist will likely always be the bridge between research and diagnosis.
Pathology of the Future
Robots will remove the mechanical requirements from the role of the pathologist. But as it is now, the successful implementation of technology will be about balance. This ethos is what has positioned us as leaders in telepathology today, and will build our infrastructure to meet the demands of the future.
Contact us today to learn more about digital pathology and our telepathology solutions.