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Digital Pathology, Pathologists, and the "Soft Copy Read"

Posted Nov 18 2009 10:02pm

A reader of Lab Soft News has suggested that it would be useful if pathologists were to adopt the phrase soft copy read as part of the ongoing discussion about digital pathology. The term is in common usage among radiologists. Digital pathology, of course, refers to the process by which the images obtained from fixed stained paraffin sections of tissue are converted to digital format, interpreted by pathologists, and then stored. Soft copy read refers specifically to the rendering of a diagnosis from an image displayed on a monitor without the creation of a hardcopy image as an intermediate step. Radiologists, of course, have a history prior to the development of digital radiology of "reading" a hardcopy film copy of the image.

The use of this phrase may be useful because the term digital pathology is often used to describe the entire digital pathology process. I can see the value of teasing out individual steps and assigning them specific names. I personally was initially confused by the use of term soft copy read because pathologists have never made use of a hard copy like radiologists. In other words, this intermediate step has never really existed for pathologists other than in the occasional post-diagnostic step of integrating one or more images of a lesion in the printed report sent to the test-ordering clinician. 

Having said this and not being sure that the use of the term soft copy read will gain currency among pathologists and digital pathology experts, I do understand the value of its use. In my subsequent notes on this topic, I will try to make it a practice to use this term and we will see if it has staying power.

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