Digital pathology has matured. Is your lab maturing with It? The case for a modernized digital pathology platform
BY TRESSA JOY | OCTOBER 12, 2022
How do you talk about the systems you use for digital pathology?
What I’ve noticed is that many of us doing research in the life sciences industry often talk about scanner software or slide management tools. This frame of reference is limiting.
As a business model to accelerate and improve an essential aspect of research, digital pathology has entered a new stage of maturity. Today’s platforms streamline integration, facilitate data management, enable real-time collaboration, and dramatically improve the core task of every pathologist: image analysis.
But many research labs remain behind the curve. If you’re still using the software that comes with your scanner for digital pathology, your lab may be behind the curve too. Or maybe you’ve gone the extra mile with a homegrown system. In my experience, though, these systems often lack the ability to connect and integrate a multitude of advanced third-party solutions that your lab often relies on.
The legacy trap
So, what’s stopping you and other labs from moving forward with a robust digital pathology platform? One answer must surely be the most common of all: garden-variety organizational inertia. Change is something we resist as humans – and let’s be honest, technology transformation means organizational change.
Our argument here at Proscia is that moving to a robust, modernized digital pathology platform actually helps you get more value out of pathology as an arm of research than ever before. Dare I say “strategic differentiator?”
The price of standing still
If your own organization advances the cost argument against modernization, an honest assessment must also factor in the costs of standing still. What exactly are the true costs of legacy solutions? Let’s have a look:
- Inefficient workflows
Legacy systems do not support the workflows required by busy research labs. Your teams are left working on an ad hoc basis, using email and spreadsheets to manage an ever-growing volume of tasks. The result is a level of inefficiency that costs your labs in ways that don’t show up on the budget. Administrators often report spending more than an hour each week ensuring that teams have the proper system access to continue their research. While access rights get ironed out, research stands still.
- Excessive IT overhead
What does show up on the budget is IT overhead. The costs of managing servers for homegrown systems and responding to simple issues such as performance problems or password resets can add up. And let’s not forget security. Is your legacy system for digital pathology incorporated into your overall cybersecurity program? Can you maintain the integrity and security of your organization’s data? These and many other issues all require substantial IT overhead.
- Poor talent retention
Today’s pathologists and researchers spend their days working digitally – and the systems used to support work tasks make a difference. No worker wants to spend time struggling with data management tasks and burdensome systems that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Increasingly, the digital experience for employees is a critical factor in whether or not they stay with an organization – or even come on board in the first place. Is your digital pathology system costing you talent? It’s an issue worth considering.
- Lack of agility
Maybe you want to bring in external peers for a consult. Or perhaps you want to offer new histopathology services on a contract basis to generate new revenue streams. If you’re struggling against clunky workflows, poor collaboration, and an inability to quickly consume new data sets, you may have to shelve these plans. Legacy systems not up to the tasks of modern digital pathology can put you behind the eight ball when it comes to innovation.
The cost-benefit equation for moving forward
I can’t argue that digital transformation for research pathology will cut lab costs – but I will argue that it can put you far ahead on the cost-benefit curve. Many of the legacy issues cited above are resolved with an open, robust, purpose-built digital pathology platform like Concentriq for Research from Proscia. Here’s why:
- Modernized data management
Legacy systems cause headaches when it comes to managing and organizing data. Concentriq for Research can store large repositories of whole slide images (WSI) with all the associated metadata. Repositories of virtual slides, folders, cases, annotations, and other metadata can be organized into groups and shared across multiple teams of researchers for faster collaboration. To help standardize operations, metadata is configurable according to lab needs. It is also searchable and retrievable for rapid digital review.
- Data access and security
Configurable settings allow administrators to easily add and assign a role for users or groups – enabling easy access to data. This helps avoid access obstacles for pathologists, researchers, and lab techs working onsite or remotely. It also facilitates collaboration by simplifying access for partners working outside of the organization.
- Intuitive collaboration
Most legacy solutions for digital pathology are inadequate when it comes to collaboration for the simple reason that they were not designed with collaboration in mind. Concentriq for Research is different in that it assumes interactions and effective communication across internal and external peers is core to what researchers and pathologists do on a daily basis. This is why the platform supports simple and interactive experiences for collaborating with peers, resulting in productive and informative sessions that help accelerate research.
It is important to remember that a digital pathology platform is an enterprise system. As with all enterprise systems, integration and secure interoperability with other systems is core to the overall value proposition. Concentriq for Research features a comprehensive browser-based viewer that supports images from all leading scanners. Our mature, field-tested open API enables integration with third-party software such as lab information management systems (LIMS), image analysis (IA) tools, electronic lab notebooks, and homegrown AI applications. This enables automation across multiple steps in research and pathology workflows. You can even access data and features of other systems through a single application supported by Concentriq for Research. The result is the kind of efficiency that helps your organization reach its full potential.
Finally, just a higher-level observation to help put the value of a modernized digital pathology platform into proper perspective: With modernized data management, simplified data access and security, easy collaboration on demand, and interoperability across other enterprise systems, a platform such as Concentriq for Research gives you agility. Why is this important? Because change is constant and the future is uncertain – and your organization wants to put itself in a position not only to increase efficiency and navigate disruptions but also to seize new opportunities as they arise.
Agility in the real world
One good example of agility in digital pathology comes from a Proscia customer with a long history in preclinical safety testing. For years, this organization depended on an outdated IMS system that impeded the sharing of images, lacked global search capabilities, burdened users with a complex interface, and forced inflexible data hierarchies that limited usability.
One key issue was that the legacy IMS system used was far from enterprise grade. By moving to Concentriq for Research, this organization was able to take full advantage of an enterprise platform for digital pathology. Today, it enjoys seamless workflows, global search capabilities, and vastly simplified platform administration. Meanwhile, new levels of agility have enabled the organization to now offer new services for the sharing of digital images and results for studies and trials. Customer uptake for these services has helped generate new revenue streams and improve satisfaction.
Certainly, moving to a modernized digital pathology platform may not result in you finding the cure you’re looking for overnight (of course, with AI built in, maybe such a platform can actually play a significant role in finding the cure – but let’s save that discussion for another time).
What is certain is that modernizing digital pathology can help speed analysis, improve efficiency, and increase organizational agility. This means less time struggling with kludgy UIs, persistent data-sharing challenges, and Zoom meetings where sharing images on screen is often an exercise in futility. It also means more time spent doing the work that, indeed, will someday lead to the cure you’re looking for. Where’s the budget line item for that?
Want to dig in deeper? Have a look at this guide about unlocking value with a modern pathology software.