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How can we use technology to improve cancer diagnostics?

‘My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.’ I couldn’t agree more with these words of Charles Kettering, visionary inventor and engineer.

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Dr. Williams

Dr. Williams

He was a man grounded in the present but with a vision for the future. That’s what we want to achieve in the Future of Pathology project. We want to take a close look at pathology services here and now so that we can guide their development through the twenty-first century.

To start on that process, my project partners and I spent time together sharing our experiences and ideas. But we also made sure we spoke with hospital administrators, managers and senior pathologists. Working together is a crucial part of developing pathology services that reflect all our values and priorities. We listened to their hopes and concerns for the future: how they aim to deliver value-based healthcare that offers timely and effective treatments, equal access and optimal outcomes for patients.

One way of supporting that aim is through technology. For me, it is the first way that leaps to mind for improving service delivery and patient outcomes. Technology has an increasingly important role to play in healthcare and pathology is no exception. As a member of the digital pathology team at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, I have seen the difference technology can make. I believe it has the potential to help pathologists support hospital management in realising their aims. That is why I will be writing about digital pathology (DP) and artificial intelligence (AI) as part of our project. DP means scanning in slides and storing them on a computer for our use. AI is about taking those images and combining them with machine analysis to do tasks usually done by people.

Let me give you an example, in Leeds, thanks to digitised images, we have been able to store hundreds of thousands of slides of both patient cases and as a library of anonymised slides for use in teaching and training. This is very different to sifting through piles of glass slides attached to files with elastic bands. The ease of access that digitisation offers makes information sharing and collaboration easy to achieve at a local, regional, national and even international level.

But it doesn’t stop there. AI is very much in its infancy, taking on routine or repetitive tasks, counting cell components, for example. It may grow, however, to encompass diagnosis itself. Releasing pathologists from some mundane or repetitive tasks can free them up to take on tasks that are more creative or require liaison across departments. And if AI is able to provide a confirmation of the pathologist’s diagnosis, it should have a positive impact on patient outcomes and safety.

The role of the pathologist is changing and will keep on changing. As it does, my request to hospital administrators and managers is to support pathologist and technology working hand in hand to ensure the delivery of excellence. The potential is phenomenal and I can’t wait to share it.

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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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