Digital Pathology is still very much in the development stage but has enjoyed some great growth in recent years in the healthcare industry. In 2009, digital pathology as a concept was still in the early adoption phase, having been introduced in Education, EQA (European Quality Assurance) schemes and Research environments.
There was yet to be any significant impact in the clinical world however. The main reason for this was some initial concerns and resistance from pathologists who weren’t keen on swapping their microscope for a monitor.
This resistance was mainly down to three concerns:
1. Bandwidth Issues
2. FDA Clearance
3. Limited Access to Scanners
Companies like UK based PathXL have helped lead the way in this cloud revolution in digital pathology by moving all their products and services to the cloud in 2009. This introduced a new SaaS (Software as a Service) model to the digital pathology market.
Adding cloud technologies to the equation was met with many puzzled faces and a lot of questions. Some of these key concerns are explained below.
• Will it not take longer to view a slide from the web than from my local machine?
The short answer here is NO. Slides can be delivered to your screen in seconds using a region-on-demand process. All that is needed is a region of the slide and an image server then returns the image over a standard TCP/IP.
• Is it secure?
One of the biggest concerns for early adapters to the cloud was security. Companies like PathXL use a private cloud management which is separated from other servers by enterprise-class firewalls and a dedicated VLAN. This gives you added security when scanning your slides and using data in the cloud.
• How many people can view slides at once?
This is very much dependent on the users own hardware resources but resources such as memory and CPU(Central Processing Unit) can be allocated to the cloud as demand increases and your user base grows.
• Can I view the slides at home?
This is perhaps the biggest benefit to the cloud and something that has helped it to grow as a service in the digital pathology industry. Slides and content can be access from anywhere in the world 24/7. All you need is an internet connection and access to a standard web browser. This means pathologists can now discuss slides with a colleague on the other side of the world.
If we think of cloud technology as a whole, it has been slowly creeping into our daily lives both at home and at the office. Forerunners of such applications need little introduction with Google Docs (2007 – now Google Drive) and Dropbox (2008) two early entrants of Cloud based applications.
In 2011 Apple’s release of the iCloud for iOS5, introduced cloud computing and SaaS to the mainstream market. This new iCloud function allowed owners of multiple Apple devices to sync any app purchases, photos and documents across these devices as well as providing a backup of services to the cloud.
So just what accelerated this growth in cloud computing?
The cloud was primarily introduced as a result of virtualisation applications like VMware and Hyper-V and the growth of IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) models from companies like Amazon who started to take a lot of the hardware problems away from software providers.
In the case of PathXL, the move to an entirely web-based, cloud hosted, SaaS model provided numerous benefits both to the organisation and customers including:
• Automated Backups – Slides and data are backed up every night to ensure additional safety and security.
• Globally Accessible – The cloud is available anywhere in the world, 24/7 meaning you can view slides at any time from any place. Access your slides via the cloud from work, home or on the go.
• Lower Maintenance – The use of cloud technologies means that there is less hardware to manage and monitor which saves you time and money in the long run.
• Reliability – Virtualised Hardware allows us to run dual systems side by side, ensuring full redundancy if a disk, machine or virtual server fails.
• Scalable – Resources such as disk capacity, memory and CPU can be increased or decreased on demand.
The ultimate benefit of a cloud based solution is its ability to be truly mobile. The ability to access slides on the go and discuss findings with pathologists around the globe just shows why cloud solutions are becoming increasingly popular within digital pathology.
It is estimated that there was 4 million slides scanned around the world in 2012 using cloud technology, with this figure expected to grow to at least 15 million slides per year by 2019. This would represent 16% of all slides being scanned will reside in the cloud in 2019.
While it may still be early days for cloud technology in digital pathology, it would appear that the sky is the limit and that cloud technology is only going to play a bigger role for pathologists in the future.
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