Virtual microscopy in pathology education

Hum Pathol. 2009 Aug;40(8):1112-21. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2009.04.010. Epub 2009 Jun 21.


Technology for acquisition of virtual slides was developed in 1985; however, it was not until the late 1990s that desktop computers had enough processing speed to commercialize virtual microscopy and apply the technology to education. By 2000, the progressive decrease in use of traditional microscopy in medical student education had set the stage for the entry of virtual microscopy into medical schools. Since that time, it has been successfully implemented into many pathology courses in the United States and around the world, with surveys indicating that about 50% of pathology courses already have or expect to implement virtual microscopy. Over the last decade, in addition to an increasing ability to emulate traditional microscopy, virtual microscopy has allowed educators to take advantage of the accessibility, efficiency, and pedagogic versatility of the computer and the Internet. The cost of virtual microscopy in education is now quite reasonable after taking into account replacement cost for microscopes, maintenance of glass slides, and the fact that 1-dimensional microscope space can be converted to multiuse computer laboratories or research. Although the current technology for implementation of virtual microscopy in histopathology education is very good, it could be further improved upon by better low-power screen resolution and depth of field. Nevertheless, virtual microscopy is beginning to play an increasing role in continuing education, house staff education, and evaluation of competency in histopathology. As Z-axis viewing (focusing) becomes more efficient, virtual microscopy will also become integrated into education in cytology, hematology, microbiology, and urinalysis.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical / trends*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / instrumentation
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Microscopy / instrumentation
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Microscopy / trends
  • Pathology / education*
  • Pathology, Surgical / instrumentation
  • Pathology, Surgical / methods
  • Pathology, Surgical / trends
  • Telepathology