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COVID-19 has made digital health the norm – where do we go from here?

In recent months, the challenges of COVID-19 have forced many of us to embrace technology and get online. In our personal and professional lives, it has never been more important to find new ways of doing things.

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Dr. Williams

Dr. Williams

Before the pandemic, pathology services were increasingly using digital technology to deliver improvements and efficiencies: so, where do we stand now? And how do we take the conversation forwards, both in our departments and also with our healthcare managers and leaders in our hospitals?

In The Future of Pathology report, I argue that digital technology – such as whole slide imaging and telepathology – can bring enormous benefits to pathology services: implications for ease of access and effective assessment of cases and for remote working, amongst other benefits.

Digitization also opens the door to Artificial Intelligence (AI), which has the capacity to build on the large datasets created through digitization, primarily by completing time-intensive tasks and ensuring accuracy.

The pathologist needs the technology, and the technology needs the pathologist.

Together, digitization and AI facilitate research. The combination of technology and pathology can improve the efficiency and accuracy of pathology services now and prepare for the demands of the future. All these elements are crucial for the future of our discipline, even without a global pandemic.

In the context of COVID-19, these points are more relevant than they have ever been. So, as we launch this report to healthcare leaders, we now seek to bring health executives and pathologists together to take pathology services forward.

In recent months, our team in Leeds has made great efforts to maintain pathology services during the first wave of COVID-19, and now we are preparing for the uncertainties of the winter season. Multidisciplinary team meetings (MDT) have been performed virtually since March, with review of digital slides as standard. Our main focus now is trialling home reporting of digital slides – we have prepared a number of publications and guidance documents to support other departments in their implementation. 1,2

For other services that have been considering or actively planning improvements using digital technology, what better time than now to embrace the potential of digital pathology?

The benefits of digital pathology are not only for the pathologist. In my chapter of The Future of Pathology report, I discuss the benefits for healthcare managers too: saving time and bringing financial benefit are just two of the many advantages.

Crucially, by working together on the digitization of pathology, healthcare managers and pathologists have the potential to improve outcomes for the patient now and in the future. In my chapter, I outline not only what we might gain but also suggest what we need to think about in order to achieve progress.

I believe that our report is even more relevant in these COVID-19 times and ask everyone working in pathology and healthcare administrators, in particular, to read it and reach out to start this vital discussion.

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References

1. Guidance for remote reporting of digital pathology slides during periods of exceptional service pressure. Royal College of Pathologists, United Kingdom; March, 2020. Available from: https://www.rcpath.org/uploads/assets/626ead77-d7dd-42e1-949988e43dc84c97/RCPath-guidance-for-remote-digital-pathology.pdf. [Last accessed on 2020 Mar 30].

2. Guidance for remote reporting of digital pathology slides during periods of exceptional service pressure – an emergency response from the UK Royal College of Pathologists. Williams BJ, Treanor D et al J Pathol Inform 2020, 11:12.

This editorial is part of the Future of Pathology series sponsored by Leica Biosystems; it reflects the views of the authors, in their individual capacities.

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