How will your organization safeguard its digital pathology data?


The options for storing, safeguarding, and managing digital pathology data are complex. Healthcare organizations can follow this investigation to understand various approaches, critical storage strategies, and key considerations.

June 21, 2024 mins

Digital pathology is the way of the future. That much is certain. What’s still uncertain for healthcare organizations is how to handle the massive storage requirements that accompany digital pathology adoption. High-resolution whole slide images (WSI) could exceed 1GB each, with labs potentially producing thousands of slides per day.

Storage strategies range from in-house to offsite cloud storage with a range of options and questions in between. Here we explore key considerations and questions to ask—both with internal teams and when vetting technologies to support your organization’s digital pathology practice.

Why digital pathology

The pathology discipline’s transformation from glass slides and microscopes to digital WSI has already proven to provide multiple benefits:

  • Reduce cost and risk for providers, labs, and other healthcare organizations via offsite storage and cloud capabilities.
  • Supplement resource shortages and enhance education, especially in research settings and in developing nations.
  • Facilitate collaboration across geographic regions to leverage expertise and reach underserved populations.
  • Enable timesaving workflow automation via artificial intelligence (AI) and other algorithm capabilities.
  • Support rapid, high-quality AI-based pattern and anomaly recognition.

Many organizations—including the UK government, YaleNew Haven Health, and Memorial Sloan Kettering CancerCenter—have already implemented digital pathology or are well on their way to robust deployments. Experts, including the World Economic Forum, expect tech innovations to help transform global health outcomes by improving data analysis, medical diagnosis, and healthcare delivery.

Approaches to image file storage

While the benefits of digital pathology are vast, so is the amount of data it creates. High-resolution image collections can easily reach the terabyte scale. As the volume of data grows, so does the need for secure and reliable storage solutions. There are pros and cons associated with each approach, as follows.

Scan and store in-house: Small-scale operations with limited scanning needs could consider this route feasible. The organization may require a single scanner to process a moderate number of slides. Image management could create challenges, though, including security vulnerabilities especially related to personal health information, a lack of redundant and offsite files, and limited scalability. The approach would consume valuable staffing resources and require capital costs as well as IT expertise. Due to the listed challenges, this would not be a viable option for moderate to large-scale operations and/or those that need to establish a cost-effective digital pathology practice in a timely manner.

Scan in-house and store on the cloud: This hybrid approach resolves many of the problems posed by a fully in-house model including the lack of redundant, secure, and offsite storage. It will place high demands on local IT, including network and infrastructure resources adding significant cost and complexity as well as require secure data connections. Many organizations are embracing the cloud for medical image storage. Yet there are security concerns related to public cloud storage. Others may balk at the hefty egress fees imposed by some cloud providers or the complex pricing structures associated with moving data among storage tiers. Though this option comes with flexibility, it should be carefully scrutinized against an organization’s specific needs, budget, and security requirements.

Employ an offsite scan-and-store service: This streamlined approach involves outsourcing the entire process. That means a trusted professional will ensure redundant, secure, offsite storage, and efficient scanning plus data access management. While it answers the challenges associated with in-house or hybrid options, organizations are cautioned to select a service provider with a solid history of securely scanning, managing, and storing medical information and pathology data. The benefits of this approach include simplified operations and predictable costs without significant upfront investments, staff training, or internal scalability concerns.

Whatever approach an organization decides to take, the objective will be the same: to ensure the secure management of digital pathology assets so leadership and staff can focus on their core functions.

To learn more, download the whitepaper bellow.

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