Why India needs smart Digital Pathology more than ever


The manual microscope has long been considered the gold standard of diagnostic pathology, enabling pathologists and medical professionals to diagnose conditions from anaemia to malaria and cancer. However, cases of improper diagnosis, due to analytical errors, have led the medical community to search for solutions that are accurate, scalable and efficient.

A recent survey has shown that a total of 5.2 million medical errors occur in India annually, costing 3 million lives[1]. Topping the list is ‘wrong medication’ which can stem from improper diagnosis. Though we should primarily be concerned with having stringent quality methods and experienced pathologists at the helm, basic processes like manual microscopy throw certain issues that plague the efficiency of accurate report generation.

Take for example, the seasonal outbreaks of malaria in the country. Detection of the malarial parasite by using manual microscopic analysis is labour-intensive, time consuming and demands clinical expertise. The sheer workload on labs during such emergencies and the eventual stress and burnout of pathologists, results in late detection and ineffective treatment. This is the reason why India continues to have one of the highest malarial deaths and the lowest detection of infections, according to a recent WHO report.[2]

Due to the aforesaid issues with conventional procedures, digital pathology, with its scope for telepathology and improved accuracy is creating a buzz within medical circles globally. Telepathology will bring medical expertise to reach rural areas that do not have access to medical facilities. It improves accuracy by enabling review of multiple fields-of-view remotely, thereby, helping pathologists to review and summarise  morphological abnormalities without having to be co-located with the sample.

Tech visionaries have gone a step further in demonstrating that digitized images can enable analysis by means of computer algorithms[3]. In this way, routine tests such as Complete Blood Count with differentials can be performed with speed and precision; completely automated, without any human intervention. In case of a need for cross-examination, pathologists and practitioners can refer to the digitised samples with visual evidence, which can be transferred, stored and managed via internet applications.

Perhaps, the greatest feat that has been achieved so far is the fusion of digital pathology with technological innovations like artificial intelligence and machine learning. This has demonstrated successful detection of abnormalities that can be missed even by a trained eye, viewing highly magnified images. This technological advancement has emerged as a solution for medical errors and misdiagnosis. While in reality it is a huge step toward empowering medical professionals to make better-informed clinical decisions.