"Virtual microscopy" and the internet as telepathology consultation tools: diagnostic accuracy in evaluating melanocytic skin lesions

Am J Dermatopathol. 1999 Dec;21(6):525-31. doi: 10.1097/00000372-199912000-00004.


The Internet offers a widely available, inexpensive tool for telepathology consultations. It allows the transfer of image and text files through electronic mail (e-mail) or file transfer protocols (FTP), using a variety of microcomputer platforms. We studied the use of the Internet and "virtual microscopy" tools for the diagnosis of 35 skin biopsies, including a variety of benign and malignant melanocytic lesions. Digitized images from these lesions were obtained at 40x and 100x optical magnification, using a high resolution digital camera (Microlumina, Leaf Systems, Southborough, MA), a light microscope with a phototube adapter and a microcomputer with a Pentium 166 MHz microprocessor. Two to four images of each case were arranged on a "canvas" to represent the majority or an entire biopsy level, using Photoshop software (Adobe Systems Inc., San Jose, CA). The images were compressed using Joint Photographers Expert Group (JPEG) format. The images were then viewed on a computer video monitor in a manner that closely resembles light microscopy, including scrolling by using the "hand tool" of Photoshop and changing magnification digitally up to 4 times without visible image degradation. The image files, ranging in size from 700 kilobytes to 2.1 megabytes (average 1.6 megabytes) were attached to e-mail messages that contained clinical information, using standard Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension (MIME) protocols and sent through the Internet, for interpretation by a dermatopathologist. The consultant could open the images from the e-mail message, using Microsoft Outlook Express (Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA) and Photoshop software, scroll them, change magnification and render a diagnosis in a manner that closely simulates light microscopy. One hundred percent concordance was obtained between the telepathology and traditional hematoxylin and eosin slide diagnoses. The Internet and relatively inexpensive "virtual microscopy" tools offer a novel technology for dermatopathology consultations. Potential applications of this technology to pathology and technical problems posed by the use of an open, widely distributed network to share sensitive medical information are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Internet*
  • Melanocytes / pathology
  • Melanoma / diagnosis
  • Microcomputers
  • Microscopy / instrumentation
  • Microscopy / methods
  • Nevus / diagnosis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Telepathology / instrumentation*
  • Telepathology / standards