This is a guest blog by Nial Toner of PathXL, a vendor of cloud-based digital pathology systems. I asked him to discuss the benefits of cloud computing in digital pathology and barriers to its deployment. There will be some emphasis placed on digital pathology at the upcoming Pathology Informatics Summit 2014 (see: Digital Pathology Well Represented at Pathology Informatics Summit 2014)--BAF
In digital pathology, cloud computing can help to deliver cost effective healthcare and also help to manage the growing amount of data that is generated by the technology. Cloud computing provides many benefits but also some drawbacks. The benefits of cloud computing in digital pathology are the following:
- Cloud computing makes data and images accessible anywhere in the world. For pathologists this brings the benefit of working from any location. Furthermore, pathologists can collaborate on a global scale, enabling them to share images and annotations to get a second opinion instantly, allowing for faster diagnosis
- Some digital pathology software companies host their products entirely in the cloud (SAAS). Customers who use such software benefit from having access to the most up-to-date versions of it without having to upgrade or install it manually. In addition time and money are saved because the data is stored in a secure external hub.
- Cloud computing provides a central repository, holding all virtual slides and data that can be easily accessed and viewed by any authorized person.
Despite these benefits, some reservations and barriers to using cloud technology in digital pathology persist and include:
- Some pathologists may be resistant to new technology, having used the same methods throughout their careers and achieved a comfort level with them.
- Many pathologists are also apprehensive about storing sensitive information externally where it may be susceptible to hackers or be lost. In response, most cloud computing vendors will offer enterprise-class firewalls as well as a dedicated VLAN.
- Some pathologists may be skeptical about working from many different locations and believe that system settings may affect how they deal with their daily case workload. The key argument here is that the pathologist working in his or her office environment is more likely to stay focused and therefore make more accurate diagnoses.
While the benefits are substantial, cloud computing has yet to make any major inroads in pathology. Despite this, cloud computing in support of digital pathology is increasingly being used for medical education and in research settings. The future for cloud technology does look bright and the value of cloud computing for the healthcare industry has been predicted to reach $5.4 billion by 2017. We are all increasingly adapting to a mobile world and digital pathology will make a major contribution to this goal.