Pathology groups and clinical laboratories gain the benefits of increased connectivity, greater productivity, and a tool to reduce costs
Acceptance of digital pathology systems is growing steadily in both North America and Europe. One sign of this acceptance is the rapid increase in the purchase of digital pathology systems by anatomic pathology laboratories in these regions.
In fact, one consulting company says that the digital pathology market is poised to explode over the next seven to eight years. This will happen as medical laboratories acquire and deploy digital pathology systems to improve their connectivity with other providers, to improve productivity of pathologists, and as a tool to reduce costs.
Digital Pathology Sales Predicted to Double in Coming Years
These predictions were made in a new report from Frost & Sullivan. The analysis estimates that, in the European market for digital pathology, sales will more than double during the next seven years. Frost & Sullivan says that sales will expand from $62.23 million in 2012 to $143.59 million by 2019.
Frost & Sullivan is even more enthusiastic about the growth prospects for digital pathology systems in the United States. It projects an almost three-fold increase in the U.S. market, with sales growing from $77.23 million in 2012 to $205.23 million by 2019.
Major Vendors of Digital Pathology Systems
According to Watchlistnews.com, its report on the digital pathology marketplace identifies the major players as the following companies:
- Aperio Technologies, Inc. (U.S.);
- Ventana Medical Systems (U.S.), a division of Roche (ROG.VX);
- Leica Microsystems GmbH (Germany);
- Digipath (U.S., OBB: DIGP);
- Hamamatsu Photonics (Japan, OTN: HPHTF).
In both Europe and the United States, clinical laboratories and academic pathology departments are now planning to replace traditional microscopes with digital scanners. These laboratory organizations are creating the IT infrastructure necessary to support use of digital pathology technology, said Frost & Sullivan Analyst Divyaa Ravishankar. She was the author of the report.
The Advantages of Digital Pathology Systems
Today’s generation of digital pathology systems provide ready access to high-quality slide images and can support better and faster diagnosis. These systems also offer advantages to preserving and archiving slide images for future reference and research applications. The adoption of this technology is also being driven by its promise for reducing costs in medical laboratories, while improving operational efficiency, treatment decisions and patient care.
Whole Slide Imaging Is One Benefit of Digital Pathology Systems
Via whole-slide imaging, digital pathology systems scan specimens in-depth to include each layer of cells. This makes it possible for a pathologist to read and diagnose specimen samples from a computer screen, rather than on glass slides through a microscope. A digital pathology system also provides academicians and pathology professionals with access to a wide range of databases while saving on the cost of preparing histology slides, pointed out Ravishankar in her report.
“Medical images have become increasingly important to surgeons, and digital images formats ensure that information is integrated and easily available for diagnosis,” Ravishankar observed. “Unlike radiologists, surgeons and pathologists make diagnostic decisions with the help of pathology images, which are critical to studying disease progression and monitoring and selecting therapy options.”
Frost & Sullivan expects that the move to digital technologies will, therefore, have a radical impact on the daily workflow and activities of pathologists and laboratory professionals. New high-throughput digital scanners will also help to relieve ever-increasing pathology laboratory workloads. Laboratory workloads are predicted to escalate by 8% to 10% annually, said Ravishankar.
Overcoming Challenges to Full Adoption of Digital Pathology
While the digital pathology market looks promising, there are still major challenges to adoption by pathologists and laboratories on both continents. In the United States, lack of Federal Drug Administration (FDA) clearance for use of most digital pathology systems for primary diagnosis is one factor that slows its adoption, she noted.
And despite successful adoption in some parts of Europe, true interoperability and standardization of digital pathology technology have been difficult to achieve due to the varied image formats and complexity of workflows involved, Ravishankar explained.
In the United States, the problem of standardization of images was solved several years ago with approval of DICOM supplement 145 technology, which supports a standard format for whole-slide digital pathology images, noted a DarkDaily.com report. DICOM enables clinical laboratories and pathology groups to store digital images in a format compatible with DICOM archive systems used by hospitals and other providers to store images.
To overcome this and other challenges, Frost & Sullivan believes strategic partnerships will be essential to pushing market growth. Vendors of one or two components need to identify the right partners to devise a robust and more complete product offering, suggested Ravishankar.
The digital pathology industry is already seeing these types of joint ventures. The Netherlands-based ERoyal Philips Electronics (Enew) (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHI) and Tokyo-based NEC Corporation (NEC; TSE: 6701) have teamed up to develop and market highly integrated digital pathology solutions, noted a story published by The Asia Career Times.
Enew’s high-throughput pathology slide scanner and NEC’s e-Pathologist Cancer Diagnosis Assistance are innovative digital pathology solutions that will be redesigned by the respective companies to utilize advanced digital techniques, The combined technologies will add quantitative analysis to qualitative information derived from the visual inspection of pathology slides, which is currently a standard digital pathology procedure. The new digital pathology product will initially be targeted to assist in the grading of breast and prostate cancers, noted the report.
The optimistic predictions for growth in the digital pathology market by Frost & Sullivan during the balance of this decade can be interpreted by pathologists as a market signal that the technology is moving to maturity. It can be expected that early-adopter pathology groups will use digital pathology to improve their competitive position while using these systems to deliver new sources of value to referring physicians.