Telepathology is a burgeoning field of healthcare that can drastically improve the entire industry. But what is it, exactly? Read this article to learn everything you need to know.
If you’re involved in the healthcare field, the term “telepathology” may have crossed your desk a time or two.
But what is telepathology exactly — and what can you do with it?
The internet has revolutionized countless industries. The medical field is no exception. Telepathology refers to the ways we can use new communication technology like the internet to do pathological work from a distance.
It’s helping many medical practitioners offer better care to more people.
In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know to understand telepathology. Keep reading to learn more!
The Definition of Telepathology
The term “telepathology” simply means practicing pathology from a distance.
This practice involves using telecommunications to send data and images for research, educational, or diagnostic purposes. In this process, the images, video, or other data are reviewed by a pathologist and a diagnosis is given.
The word was first coined in 1986 by academic pathologist Ronald S. Weinstein, M.D. He used the term in a piece he published in a medical journal, talking about what it would take for pathologists to routinely perform remote diagnoses. Along with some collaborators, he wrote the first scientific paper about robotic telepathology.
Weinstein also got the first U.S. patents for telepathology diagnostic networks and for systems of robotic telepathology. This made him a true pioneer of the industry.
However, the first sustainable service using clinical telepathology got its start in Norway in 1989. This early service has now been joined by many others that use telepathology to offer excellent diagnostic results to patients.
Telepathology is now used for many different applications. These include diagnosing frozen section specimens, education, research, and second opinion diagnoses.
It’s also now been divided into three distinct systems. Let’s take a closer look at what those are.
Types of Telepathology
The three main types of telepathology systems are:
- Real-time systems
- Virtual slide systems
- Image-based systems
Static image-based systems are the easiest to use and most affordable of these types. However, they can’t capture quite as much information as the other systems can.
The real-time robotic microscope systems and virtual slide systems give the pathologist more information to work with, even at a distance. In the real-time systems, a robotic microscope is controlled from a distance. The pathologist can operate it and view the results from their remote location.
They can use the robotic microscope and adjust the magnification, field of view, illumination, and focus as needed. An analog or digital video camera attached to the microscope allows the pathologist to see what they need to see.
The live video can be fed into a computer monitor in the pathologist’s location. It uses encrypted software to safely send the data. A microphone on each side of the interaction allows the pathologist to communicate with the person placing the slides below the microscope.
With slide system telepathology, an automated digital slide scanner is used to make a digital image of a whole slide. That image is stored on a computer and can be accessed from a distance — with an internet connection and the right credentials.
Telepathology Types: Pros and Cons
The real-time and virtual slide systems offer a greater diagnostic accuracy than the static-image systems. However, there are pros and cons to each method used by telepathologists.
With a real-time system, a local-area network or LAN is necessary to make it perform its best. But if it’s being used when there’s a lot of network traffic, the communication necessary for real-time diagnoses may not be there.
The virtual slide and real-time systems can also get quite expensive. Although virtual-slide methods have become very popular, the slide scanners needed to create multiple slides per minute are pricey.
The virtual digital files of the slides are also large. They can be bigger than a gigabyte. Storing and sending files of this size is another challenge associated with the format.
Benefits of Telepathology
Is telepathology the way of the future? Many pathologists think so.
Here are a few of the top benefits driving telepathology implementation.
1. Faster Consultations and Diagnoses
A frozen section diagnosis can be made much faster when pathologists can view the images remotely. Consultations can also be made, bringing sub-specialists such as dermatologists, neuropathologists, and renal pathologists into the loop.
2. Better Evaluations
In addition to speed, the quality of the evaluations made using telepathology also tends to be higher.
With virtual imaging, a pathologist can look at a whole slide more easily than if they’re looking directly into a microscope. They can use a single slide or a whole series to get a more clear look at a pathological history.
And, since software is used as part of the diagnostic method, the margin for human error is greatly reduced.
3. Evaluation from a Distance
With real-time telepathology, slides can be evaluated remotely. In addition to being convenient, it also lowers the risk of contamination for sensitive slides.
4. Video Collaboration Options
Real-time telepathology also offers the possibility of video collaboration. The images can get transferred to different monitors in the form of live video feeds.
Then, multiple pathologists can view the images in the live video feed all at once. Using this video feed, the team can land on the right diagnosis together.
5. Better Communication
Using this live video option, the team can communicate more effectively about the diagnosis and everything related to it.
A video conference can allow team members to share their thoughts and conclusions. The team doesn’t all need to be in the same place, but they can all communicate at the same time.
The Future of Telepathology
Telepathology is fairly new to the medical world, but it’s already made a significant mark.
As this technology is adopted across the globe, more benefits are sure to be realized.
Looking for telehealth solutions that involve telepathology? We can help. You can learn more here today.