Diagnostic Efficiency in Digital Pathology: A Comparison of Optical Versus Digital Assessment in 510 Surgical Pathology Cases

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Prior work has shown that digital images and microscopic slides can be interpreted with comparable diagnostic accuracy. Although accuracy has been well-validated, the interpretative time for digital images has scarcely been studied and concerns about efficiency remain a major barrier to adoption. We investigated the efficiency of digital pathology when compared with glass slide interpretation in the diagnosis of surgical pathology biopsy and resection specimens. Slides were pulled from 510 surgical pathology cases from 5 organ systems (gastrointestinal, gynecologic, liver, bladder, and brain). Original diagnoses were independently confirmed by 2 validating pathologists. Diagnostic slides were scanned using the Philips IntelliSite Pathology Solution. Each case was assessed independently on digital and optical by 3 reading pathologists, with a ≥6 week washout period between modalities. Reading pathologists recorded assessment times for each modality; digital times included time to load the case. Diagnostic accuracy was determined based on whether a rendered diagnosis differed significantly from the original diagnosis. Statistical analysis was performed to assess for differences in interpretative times across modalities. All 3 reading pathologists showed comparable diagnostic accuracy across optical and digital modalities (mean major discordance rates with original diagnosis: 4.8% vs. 4.4%, respectively). Mean assessment times ranged from 1.2 to 9.1 seconds slower on digital versus optical. The slowest reader showed a significant learning effect during the course of the study so that digital assessment times decreased over time and were comparable with optical times by the end of the series. Organ site and specimen type did not significantly influence differences in interpretative times. In summary, digital image reading times compare favorably relative to glass slides across a variety of organ systems and specimen types. Mean increase in assessment time is 4 seconds/case. This time can be minimized with experience and may be further balanced by the improved ease of electronic chart access allowed by digital slide viewing, as well as quantitative assessments which can be expedited on digital images.

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