The benefits of digital pathology during COVID-19 - experiences in an oncology hospital

Aug 04, 2020 - Reading time 5-7 minutes

Dr. Veena R, Consultant Pathologist and Head of Histopathology, Strand Life Sciences, Healthcare Global Enterprises Cancer Hospital, Bangalore, highlights how digital pathology saved the day when COVID-19 hit her operations in India.

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With the sudden lock down declared by India’s Prime Minister in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the morning of March 26, 2020, was anything but usual. With it came immediate prohibition on the movement of people with non-essential jobs. Within healthcare pathologists like myself were also asked to remain at home as much as possible. Faced with patients in post-surgical wards awaiting their histopathology reports before discharge, those waiting for diagnosis having undergone needle biopsies the day before, and histopathology samples landing on us from various parts of the country for processing by the lab, quick decisions had to be made to maintain patient care and staff safety.  


Technical staff living close to the hospital were immediately mobilized to attend to 428 tissue blocks ready for processing by our automatic tissue processors, and gross examination of around 70 other specimens. Then came the question of reporting these cases. With four pathologists, one of them over 65 years of age and the other three living some way from the hospital, how were we going to manage? That’s when our Philips IntelliSite Pathology Solution’s ultra-fast pathology scanner came to our rescue. Having an efficient and optimized digital workflow already in place in the lab made adapting to the challenge of COVID-19 relatively easy.

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It was easy for our pathologists to do the reporting from home

With 100% or our slides digitized each day as part of our normal practice for primary reporting, it was easy for our pathologists to access our secure URL and do the reporting from home. The test request forms and gross examination images for the specimens were already uploaded into our Philips IntelliSite Pathology Solution - Image Management System (IMS), providing them with all the information they needed for reporting. In fact, the image quality and easy case assignment and navigation made reporting a truly seamless experience. With all four pathologists working from home, on-line collaboration and case discussions became easy. In fact, the turnaround time for reports is now better than when we worked in the lab, where we often got distracted by phone calls and visitors.

It is said that you can’t re-write your past, but you can grab a clean sheet of paper and write your future. With the aid of Philips IntelliSite digital pathology scanner, COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to write our future with confidence.

Dr. Veena R

Consultant Pathologist and Head of Histopathology, Strand Life Sciences, HCG Cancer Hospital, Bangalore.

Discuss cases online with surgeons in the operating theater

Then came the challenge of managing frozen sections, with six to seven of these arriving each day for diagnosis and margin status. For staff on duty processing these in the pathology lab, safety precautions including the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE) were implemented. However, with our digital pathology solution, especially the scanner’s high image quality and fast scanning, we validated that we could then assess these frozen sections from home. We were even able to discuss cases online with surgeons in the operating theater. Our normal 20-minute turnaround time was not compromised, and I would go as far as saying that our understanding with our surgeons actually became stronger.   


With the need for social distancing, online multidisciplinary team meetings involving surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists and pathologists soon became the norm. And thanks to the Philips scanner, we validated that we were also able to continue with our cytopathology operations, only visiting the lab when smears needed to be assessed microscopically. Our Tuesday tumor boards, during which clinicians throughout the HCG network discuss complex medical situations and share cases through digitized slides, were also unaffected, as were our teaching and research-related activities.


COVID-19 has slowed down the world, but with digital pathology helping us out the life of our pathologists has become easier and faster, all while working from the comfort of their own homes. 


Healthcare Global Enterprises is India’s largest provider of cancer care.

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