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Philips Enters the Still Embryonic U.S. Digital Pathology Market

Posted Jul 26 2010 12:00am

Philips may be a force to contend with in the increasingly competitive U.S. digital pathology market. The company first unveiled its "work-in-progress" slide scanner and image management system at the USCAP conference last March in Washington, D.C. (see: Philips to unveil breakthrough in digital pathology ). Their prototype system has been initially positioned for research but will then transition to clinical use after FDA approval. More recent news is that the company signed an agreement to integrate some of Dako's image analysis applications into Philips'  digital pathology solutions. Company officials have emphasized that anatomic pathology is an essential element in virtually every cancer diagnosis and that demand in this cancer market is increasing.  Philips will also participate in the Pathology Informatics 2010 conference to be held in Boston on 19-22 September, 2010.

I had the opportunity to recently speak with Steve Klink, Director of Communications for Phillips Research, and Jose Castanon, Marketing Director of Philips Digital, about digital pathology in the U.S. They both describe digital pathology as an embryonic market with the overriding demands from customers for rapid slide scanning and image management. They maintain that their equipment will be able to deliver one-minute total handling time per slide. They did agree with me, however, that this may not be absolutely required in all settings if and when slide scanning is performed the night before image interpretation by pathologists.

Both were in agreement that the early adopters of their system will include high-volume reference labs as well as academic departments. The latter may be under pressure to deploy this new technology because of the preferences of residents and fellows applying to their programs (see: Putting Some Numbers to Digital Pathology Adoption Trends by Pathologists ). For early adopters, the return-on-investment (ROI) for systems is still not totally comparable to older histopathology techniques but the desire to become an early adopter and master this new technology may outweigh these financial issues. I asked whether they were considering an up-front capital purchase or the rental, taxi-meter approach for their system. They indicated that both approaches are required in the U.S. market.

Because pathology surgical pathology images are not "digital from birth" as they are in radiology, the business case for digital pathology is harder to make than in radiology. Like radiologists, however, pathologists will be forced to retrain with this new technology and also make major changes to histology workflow and report generation. Harking back to the early days of LISs, these new workflow requirements are not tightly integrated into the image storage and retrieval support systems. Hence, the digital pathology vendors like Philips will need to serve as advisers to customers about the optimal deployment of the products that they are selling.

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