Though the term telepathology may conjure images of psychic abilities, the reality is much more simple. Initially conceptualized in 1986 by Dr. Ronald S. Weinstein, the field has grown substantially, though widespread use has not yet been fully realized, both here in the United States and abroad.

Curious if telepathology is the right solution for your practice? We’ll examine just what telepathology is—including the different methodologies it can encompass—and how it can improve patient care, research, and diagnoses, to help you decide for yourself.

What is Telepathology?

Simply put, telepathology is the practice of pathology done remotely. This is primarily achieved through the sharing of digital slides with pathologists over the internet, though we’ll examine other methods later on. Using a digital slide system, samples are digitized at a high resolution, making them easier to examine at various magnification levels. This makes them ideal for telepathology, as pathologists are able to manipulate and study samples in ways that cannot be achieved through other methods.

Though the use of telepathology was increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a 2020 report found that prior to that in the United States, fewer than 20 percent of laboratories were utilizing the benefits of telepathology for secondary diagnosis, and fewer than one percent were using it for a primary diagnosis. The reasons for this could range from a cost-prohibitive standpoint to difficulties with EMR integration and more. PathologyWatch has addressed these concerns, providing infrastructure implementation with complete EMR integration along with improved read quality, resulting in reductions in associated overhead costs.

Additional Types of Telepathology

Along with the aforementioned digital slide method, there are two other common methods of telepathology. One is a real-time system, which falls under the umbrella of telemedicine. Through this approach, pathologists are able to remotely control a microscope, which allows them the ability to adjust and view results from their location. A live video feed of the microscopy is fed back to the pathologists over a secure network, and a communication system allows them to speak with the individual placing the slides on the microscope at the lab or medical office. This approach does allow for pathologists to examine samples in real time, but unlike the digital slide method, they are unable to access slides 24/7.

The second is an image-based system, which is similar to the digital slide method, though much less advanced. In effect, an image of a slide is captured and shared remotely with a pathologist, who is able to then access the file and make a determination based on what they see. Unlike the digital slide approach, these images are not saved at the same high-resolution quality, meaning they cannot be magnified or manipulated in a similar way.

Benefits of Using Telepathology

The biggest benefit of telepathology is the response time. When samples are able to be instantly shared with pathologists anywhere in the world—especially through a streamlined system—it allows for an expedited response, typically resulting in a faster diagnosis. This is especially true when fully interpreted pathology reports can be uploaded directly into a patient’s EMR.

In the same vein, telepathology allows for better collaboration among medical professionals. By partnering with a digital dermpath lab like PathologyWatch, clinics can experience improved clinical correlation by including more than one pathologist to examine a sample to compare interpretations or sending a sample to a specialist if the slide indicates something indicative of a systemic illness. 

Additionally, evaluations made using telepathology tend to have a higher quality. When using the digital slide method, pathologists can examine a whole-slide image more easily and compare it to other slides for confirmation. Because of the design of the digital slide software, the margin for error is also greatly reduced.

So is telepathology the right solution for your practice? Advancements in technology have led to more widespread use, and according to Industry Research, the global telepathology market size was more than $500 million in 2019 and is expected to reach $985 million by 2026. If you are interested in telepathology—or more specifically, digital dermatopathology—contact PathologyWatch to learn more about how our approach has revolutionized the industry for our dermatology clients.