Managing pathology slide storage in the age of digitization


Digital pathology is gaining in popularity because it enables faster, more efficient collaboration between pathologists and greater access to data for research purposes.

Brian Grant, Managing Director, Global Industries - Healthcare
Brian Grant
Managing Director, Global Accounts, Iron Mountain
August 16, 202312 mins
Managing Pathology Slide Storage in the Age of Digitization

Digital images of traditional microscope glass slides are enabling improved collaboration and efficiency. But what happens to millions of glass slides as they are digitized?

Digital pathology is gaining in popularity because it enables faster, more efficient collaboration between pathologists and greater access to data for research purposes. Instead of waiting for physical slide delivery, pathologists and researchers can now access and share digital images of crucial information when time matters most.

The availability of slide images on demand raises questions about whether providers need to continue storing slides onsite for quick retrieval and to meet regulatory requirements. The slides consume valuable real estate that may not always be appropriately secured or temperature-controlled.

A Case in Storing Vital Records and Specimens Offsite

Pathology storage was recently put to the test when a sizable laboratory in the US needed to give up half of its physical space with 30 days’ notice. This meant quickly moving all records: Medical documents containing sensitive data and protected health information, plus pathology specimens that required specific handling and controlled environmental conditions to avoid breakage, wax melting, or other forms of loss.

Despite the aggressive timeline, the process had to be governed by strict industry regulations. All assets had to be handled in accordance with HIPAA and associated privacy and security standards.

Managers at the lab made a plan to clean out the storage space, partnering with a company known for digital transformation and information management in heavily regulated industries.

Together, they prepped all the vital records, matching assets to specific storage environments to meet unique requirements. They instituted special packaging and transport for fragile slides and other breakable assets. Specimen blocks were moved to a temperature-controlled storage unit to preserve integrity.

The work was handled within the deadline, and the lab is saving approximately $2,000 per month in storage costs. More importantly, the pathology specimens are safe, organized, and available for easy recall.

Why More Labs are Moving Away from In-House Storage

Many medical facilities have recognized the risks of storing their slides and blocks in sub-optimal locations. The following five key drivers are propelling the trend of labs seeking offsite pathology storage management solutions.

  • Storage costs: Most labs struggle to control the expenses related to managing specimens in-house, including real estate and all the resource line items on their budgets. A cost/value analysis helps determine potential efficiency gains.
  • Temperature control: A facility dedicated to maintaining the recommended temperature range and ideal conditions for specimens lowers the risk of degradation and increases the ability to support future research needs.
  • Reduced litigation risk: A scalable, temperature-controlled storage facility centralizes ‘spill-over storage’ to help eliminate inconsistencies, increase control, and improve visibility.
  • Staff productivity: By partnering with a professional storage solution provider, facilities can move less active archival inventory off-site on a routine basis. This creates on-site space for recent and active inventory. It also shifts the burden of moving old inventory, freeing up staff to focus on their primary responsibilities.
  • Ease access: A hybrid model of storing only the most recent and active specimens onsite and centralizing all other specimens with an offsite vendor offers optimal access, control, and scalability.

For these reasons, lab managers are realizing that onsite doesn’t equate to secure and accessible. Alternatively, a modern physical storage solution does more than support the needs of pathology. It paves the way for digital pathology on demand.

What Is Digital Pathology On Demand?

Digital Pathology on Demand (DPOD) is a solution developed by Iron Mountain, which helped the US lab featured here to organize, transport, and securely store its assets, including fragile slides. DPOD combines professional services, hardware, and software. Digital images live on secure Iron Mountain storage, while the physical slides remain safe in Iron Mountain vaults. These images can be searched, annotated, shared to facilitate collaboration, and maintained for future use.

By improving speed access to high-value slide images, DPOD improves a lab’s ability to collaborate and function efficiently. The process involves converting stored physical glass pathology slides into digital images, capturing each slide’s metadata, and linking slide images to patients’ medical records.

Ultimately, labs and other medical facilities that are working with Iron Mountain are bringing their true mission into focus. As digital pathology expert Dr. Zoya Volynskaya said, “Digital pathology is more than just improving things for the pathologist. With increased accessibility and speed of collaboration there can be a huge range of beneficiaries.”

To learn more about our Digital Pathology On Demand solution, explore the solution brief, or reach out to an Iron Mountain expert.