Aims: To analyse the present status and future development of computerized diagnostic pathology in terms of work‐flow integrative telepathology and virtual laboratory.
Present status: Telepathology has left its childhood. The technical development of telepathology is mature, in contrast to that of virtual pathology. Two kinds of virtual pathology laboratories are emerging: a) those with distributed pathologists and distributed (>=1) laboratories associated to individual biopsy stations/surgical theatres, and b) distributed pathologists working in a centralized laboratory. Both are under technical development. Telepathology can be used for e‐learning and e‐training in pathology, as exemplarily demonstrated on Digital Lung Pathology Pathology (www.pathology‐online.org).
Features of virtual pathology: A virtual pathology institution (mode a) accepts a complete case with the patient's history, clinical findings, and (pre‐selected) images for first diagnosis. The diagnostic responsibility is that of a conventional institution. The internet serves as platform for information transfer, and an open server such as the iPATH (http://telepath.patho.unibas.ch) for coordination and performance of the diagnostic procedure. The size of images has to be limited, and usual different magnifications have to be used. A group of pathologists is “on duty”, or selects one member for a predefined duty period. The diagnostic statement of the pathologist(s) on duty is retransmitted to the sender with full responsibility. First experiences of a virtual pathology institution group working with the iPATH server (Dr. L. Banach, Dr. G. Haroske, Dr. I. Hurwitz, Dr. K. Kayser, Dr. K.D. Kunze, Dr. M. Oberholzer,) working with a small hospital of the Salomon islands are promising. A centralized virtual pathology institution (mode b) depends upon the digitalisation of a complete slide, and the transfer of large sized images to different pathologists working in one institution. The technical performance of complete slide digitalisation is still under development and does not completely fulfil the requirements of a conventional pathology institution at present.
Virtual pathology and e‐learning: At present, e‐learning systems are “stand‐alone” solutions distributed on CD or via internet. A characteristic example is the Digital Lung Pathology CD (www.pathology‐online.org), which includes about 60 different rare and common lung diseases and internet access to scientific library systems (PubMed), distant measurement servers (EuroQuant), or electronic journals (Elec J Pathol Histol). A new and complete data base based upon this CD will combine e‐learning and e‐teaching with the actual workflow in a virtual pathology institution (mode a). The technological problems are solved and do not depend upon technical constraints such as slide scanning systems
Perspectives: Telepathology serves as promotor for a new landscape in diagnostic pathology, the so‐called virtual pathology institution. Industrial and scientific efforts will probably allow an implementation of this technique within the next two years.