This is a short guest blog by Dr. Bruce Beckwith, Chief of Pathology, North Shore Medical Center, Salem, MA. Dr. Beckwith will be providing more details about DICOM in a talk at Pathology Informatics 2010 that will be held in Boston on 19-22 September (see: Enabling Digital Pathology - Whole Slide Imaging in DICOM). Please contact him if you want more information or would like to get involved with the DICOM pathology working group. Such input is always valued.
The approval of Supplement 145 (Whole slide microscopic image object definition) coupled with the prior approval of Supplement 122 in 2008 (Pathology specimen module) means that the DICOM standard now has the pathology concepts and image objects that are necessary for vendors to implement a digital pathology workflow, including AP-LISs, slide scanners, PACS, and viewers. This will allow robust interoperability of products and systems from multiple vendors and also storage of pathology images in standard hospital PACS systems.
The good news is that the standards are now available. However, there is still much work to be done. It typically takes years for new features in the DICOM standard to be adopted by vendors. I expect that the digital pathology vendors will change quickly but it may take much longer for the currently installed PACS systems to be upgraded. In addition to PACS, the AP-LIS vendors will need to become aware of these changes and add support in order to have a seamless workflow. Such an environment has already been achieved in radiology.
The IHE-Pathology group is continuing to work on integration profiles supporting digital pathology. For those not familiar with IHE, you can think of these profiles as high level implementation guidelines. We would like to see pathology imaging vendors take part in the IHE Connectathons such as the one that took place earlier this year.One of the roles of pathologists is this process will be to communicate to the vendors with whom they work that DICOM compliance will be a necessary feature of future pathology imaging products just as it is in radiology today. They also need to educate the PACS administrators about this issue well in advance of the time that they intend to start storing hospital pathology images in these imaging systems.