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Reconciliation of diverse telepathology system designs. Historic issues and implications for emerging markets and new applications

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Abstract:

Telepathology, the distant service component of digital pathology, is a growth industry. The word “telepathology” was introduced into the English Language in 1986. Initially, two different, competing imaging modalities were used for telepathology. These were dynamic (real time) robotic telepathology and static image (store‐and‐forward) telepathology. In 1989, a hybrid dynamic robotic/static image telepathology system was developed in Norway. This hybrid imaging system bundled these two primary pathology imaging modalities into a single multi‐modality pathology imaging system. Similar hybrid systems were subsequently developed and marketed in other countries as well. It is noteworthy that hybrid dynamic robotic/static image telepathology systems provided the infrastructure for the first truly sustainable telepathology services. Since then, impressive progress has been made in developing another telepathology technology, so‐called “virtual microscopy” telepathology (also called “whole slide image” telepathology or “WSI” telepathology). Over the past decade, WSI has appeared to be emerging as the preferred digital telepathology digital imaging modality. However, recently, there has been a re‐emergence of interest in dynamic‐robotic telepathology driven, in part, by concerns over the lack of a means for up‐and‐down focusing (i.e., Z‐axis focusing) using early WSI processors. In 2010, the initial two U.S. patents for robotic telepathology (issued in 1993 and 1994) expired enabling many digital pathology equipment companies to incorporate dynamic‐robotic telepathology modules into their WSI products for the first time. The dynamic‐robotic telepathology module provided a solution to the up‐and‐down focusing issue. WSI and dynamic robotic telepathology are now, rapidly, being bundled into a new class of telepathology/digital pathology imaging system, the “WSI‐enhanced dynamic robotic telepathology system”. To date, six major WSI processor equipment companies have embraced the approach and developed WSI‐enhanced dynamic‐robotic digital telepathology systems, marketed under a variety of labels. Successful commercialization of such systems could help overcome the current resistance of some pathologists to incorporate digital pathology, and telepathology, into their routine and esoteric laboratory services. Also, WSI‐enhanced dynamic robotic telepathology could be useful for providing general pathology and subspecialty pathology services to many of the world's underserved populations in the decades ahead. This could become an important enabler for the delivery of patient‐centered healthcare in the future.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0463.2011.02866.x

Publication date: April 1, 2012

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