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Software as the Core Competency of Digital Pathology Companies

Posted Oct 05 2009 10:02pm

I was mildly surprised to learn from an executive of a digital pathology company that he considers software development as the core competency of his company. I guess that my attention was focused on the development of scanners by them and I had underestimated the software side of the business. I have also been influenced by my opinion that the engineering and scientific culture of the IVDs has limited their competency in lab software. However and given the emergence of algorithms as a key product line for both BioImagene and Aperio, I now accept the fact that these are primarily software companies (see: A Blueprint for Blending Anatomic and Clinical Pathology ). 

So why is this important? Please read on. A recent article in the Dark Daily discusses the digital pathology industry, describing it as entering a new phase (see: Three Trends Now Fueling Wider Adoption of Digital Pathology ). Below is an excerpt from it:

Digital pathology is entering a new phase of adoption marked by three significant trends. This is the assessment of Dirk Soenksen, Founder and CEO of Aperio Technologies, Inc., in Vista, California. He believes these three trends are working together to accelerate the adoption of digital imaging and digital pathology systems by pathology laboratories across the nation...:
  • The desire by some pathologists who already use digital pathology in niche settings to expand the use of digital pathology within their laboratories to partial or full adoption.
  • A heightened interest by laboratory information system (LIS) vendors to integrate their software with digital image management (pathology PACS) software, as a way to improve their competitive advantage.
  • Widespread support for the newly formed Digital Pathology Association (DPA) a not-for-profit group comprising industry and non-industry members, and its mission to focus on education, best practices, and increasing awareness....
“In fact, it is this interest (by customers of LIS systems) to integrate digital pathology into the workflow which caught the attention of several LIS companies,” continued Soenksen. “These firms view digital pathology as a basis for a competitive advantage, and that’s why more and more LIS companies are announcing relationships with digital pathology companies. They believe that an interface to a digital pathology system provides a basis of differentiation. Once digital pathology is integrated into the LIS, it is possible to share data with the LIS, setting the stage for more widespread adoption of digital pathology systems”.“The fact that two sponsors of the newly-formed DPA are LIS vendors is evidence of this important trend,” Soenksen noted. “For example, Sunquest Information Systems Inc. is a gold sponsor and McKesson Corporation is a corporate sponsor of the DPA. Other LIS vendors are expected to join the DPA as well.”

The LIS industry has never been able to develop an industry-wide trade association but has rather focused on the development of user groups as a type of "outreach" strategy. I put this term in quotes because communicating with customers doesn't get these companies too far outside the box. The article above mentions the development of the Digital Pathology Association and also the need to integrate digital pathology information and workflow into LISs and AP-LISs. If you accept my premise above that digital pathology is primarily software oriented, then the DPA is the first ever lab software business consortium.

Added evidence for the maturity of this segment of the pathology and lab medicine industry is that Pathology Visions digital pathology conference has evolved from an Aperio-launched user group to very successful vendor-neural event, another variant of this broad industry-wide theme promoted by the DPA. LIS companies, prior to this apparent catalytic effect of the digital pathology companies, suffered from a case of arrested development, never being able to get past their user group phase. I am now working on a lecture describing the various types of "integration" that are now at play in the clinical labs such as AP with CP and pathology/lab medicine into radiology. Let's hope that the DPA and digital pathology are signs that we are rapidly moving in this direction.

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