Community Anatomic Pathology Groups Show Increased Interest in Adopting Digital Pathology and Whole-Slide Imaging, But Can They Do It on a Budget?
Acceptance of digital pathology and whole-slide imaging is now almost universal among academic health center pathology departments and the nation’s largest pathology companies
Across the United States, many private practice anatomic pathology groups now recognize that digital pathology is the path forward for the entire profession. During the past decade, most academic pathology departments and large pathology lab companies have incorporated digital pathology (DP) and whole-slide imaging (WSI) into many of their labs’ daily activities.
However, in community hospital-based anatomic pathology groups, there have been barriers to even the partial adoption of digital pathology. The two biggest barriers are well-known and discussed frequently at conferences and in the literature.
Some Pathologists Reluctant to Give Up Light Microscopes
One recognized barrier to wider adoption of DP is the reluctance of many long-serving pathologists to give up their familiar light microscopes and glass slides so they can make the transition to reading pathology images on a computer screen. These pathologists remain loyal to the tools and workflows that have served them well throughout their careers.
They generally oppose their group’s move to digital pathology when the subject is discussed in partner meetings and strategic retreats. Since many pathology groups require 100% of partners or shareholders to approve major business decisions, even one recalcitrant and stubborn pathologist-partner can block the motion to adopt digital pathology that is supported by most partners.
The second barrier is the fully-loaded cost to acquire, validate, implement, and use a digital pathology system with whole-slide imaging. A full-featured scanner can cost $250,000 or more and acquiring all the software, systems, and tools needed by a group to fully incorporate digital pathology into daily workflow can easily total $500,000 to $1,000,000.
This substantial commitment of a pathology group’s capital can trigger the same intense debates as the original question of whether the pathologists in the group should adopt DP and WSI. And, not surprisingly, in most pathology groups the same dynamics come into play when votes are tallied on the motion for the pathology group to commit the funds necessary to acquire a digital pathology system, the scanners, and associated tools.
Just one or two partner holdouts can block the decision to spend the money, despite that most of the pathologist partners are ready to make the commitment.
More Community Pathology Groups Considering Digital Pathology
Yet, the momentum in favor of adopting DP and WSI continues to build. “Those pathology labs that are early adopters report multiple clinical and financial benefits. These can include generating positive financial outcomes—including the ability to attract new clients, increasing case referrals, and generating new sources of revenue to the group. In turn, the increased revenue can allow the group to increase pathologist compensation,” said Robert L. Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report.
“We are in a time when health insurers are hammering away at the reimbursement paid to anatomic pathologists,” Michel continued. “Year after year, payers cut reimbursement for technical component and professional component services. They exclude many pathology groups from payer networks. That is why more community pathology groups are recognizing several important benefits with the use of DP and WSI that can increase a pathology group’s revenue and boost its pathologist compensation.
Community Pathology Groups Can Use Digital Pathology to Add Value
Equally important, there are specific ways that digital pathology and whole-slide imaging increase the value of the clinical services pathologists deliver to their client physicians. These dual benefits of DP are often overlooked—or not discussed—when community pathology groups conduct their annual retreats and debate the key points of when to adopt—and how to fund—a digital pathology system for their group. These benefits range from giving physicians a faster diagnostic answer on their cancer cases to helping the group’s subspecialist pathologists get more case referrals from physicians in other states.
“It’s important for all surgical pathologists to recognize several realities in today’s pathology marketplace,” Michel noted. “First, almost every sector in healthcare is digitizing itself. Reinforcing this trend is the federal government’s mandates for interoperability across EHRs, HISs, and LISs. Any private pathology group practice that lags in its adoption of digital capabilities and digital images will find itself falling farther and farther behind as physicians switch their case referrals to other pathology labs that have converted to digital pathology and whole-slide images.
“Second, pathology groups that adopt DP and WSI put themselves in a position to build market share in their service region, while at the same time increasing case referrals for their in-house subspecialist pathologists from throughout the United States,” Michel continued. “Also, when the histology is done locally, the local pathology group can deliver faster diagnostic answers and provide digital images as appropriate to referring physicians and hospitals in that region without the need to transport glass slides by couriers.
“Third—and this is an often-overlooked benefit of digital pathology—the local pathology group with DP and WSI can recruit today’s graduating pathology residents and fellows who have trained on DP and WSI. These new pathologists typically limit their job search to pathology groups that have gone digital,” Michel noted. “Millennial pathologists trained with digital images in their residency program. They are eager to work with the automated image analysis algorithms now coming to market.”
To help pathology groups better understand the opportunities and challenges associated with implementing digital pathology and whole-slide imaging, Dark Daily is presenting a special webinar, “Adopting Digital Pathology on a Budget: Getting Started, Knowing What’s Feasible, and Funding Your DP from Overlooked Sources,” on Thursday, May 27, from 1:00 PM to 2:30 EDT.
Recognizing the significant capital investment needed to acquire and deploy digital pathology and WSI, one goal of the webinar’s panel of experts is to identify ways that pathology groups can go digital on a budget. “We will do our best to identify different ways that pathology groups with limited financial resources can get into digital pathology,” said Keith Kaplan, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Corista in Concord, Mass., who will chair the upcoming webinar. “This may be the first public presentation where there is candid information about different financial strategies that your pathology group can utilize to acquire the scanners, the DP systems, and the associated tools needed for a full conversion to daily digital pathology.”
Don’t overlook how your participation in this webinar can be the foundation for helping your pathology group practice develop a timely, cost-effective path forward to introduce digital pathology and whole-slide imaging. Use of DP and WSI can become an important factor in helping your group offset payer prices cuts, develop new clients and sources of revenue, and increase pathologist compensation.
Click HERE to register today (or copy and paste this URL into your browser: https://www.darkdaily.com/webinar/adopting-digital-pathology-on-a-budget/). Make sure to have your pathology practice administrator and your histology manager join you for this important webinar.