Overview of telepathology, virtual microscopy, and whole slide imaging: prospects for the future

Hum Pathol. 2009 Aug;40(8):1057-69. doi: 10.1016/j.humpath.2009.04.006. Epub 2009 Jun 24.


Telepathology, the practice of pathology at a long distance, has advanced continuously since 1986. Today, fourth-generation telepathology systems, so-called virtual slide telepathology systems, are being used for education applications. Both conventional and innovative surgical pathology diagnostic services are being designed and implemented as well. The technology has been commercialized by more than 30 companies in Asia, the United States, and Europe. Early adopters of telepathology have been laboratories with special challenges in providing anatomic pathology services, ranging from the need to provide anatomic pathology services at great distances to the use of the technology to increase efficiency of services between hospitals less than a mile apart. As to what often happens in medicine, early adopters of new technologies are professionals who create model programs that are successful and then stimulate the creation of infrastructure (ie, reimbursement, telecommunications, information technologies, and so on) that forms the platforms for entry of later, mainstream, adopters. The trend at medical schools, in the United States, is to go entirely digital for their pathology courses, discarding their student light microscopes, and building virtual slide laboratories. This may create a generation of pathology trainees who prefer digital pathology imaging over the traditional hands-on light microscopy. The creation of standards for virtual slide telepathology is early in its development but accelerating. The field of telepathology has now reached a tipping point at which major corporations now investing in the technology will insist that standards be created for pathology digital imaging as a value added business proposition. A key to success in teleradiology, already a growth industry, has been the implementation of standards for digital radiology imaging. Telepathology is already the enabling technology for new, innovative laboratory services. Examples include STAT QA surgical pathology second opinions at a distance and a telehealth-enabled rapid breast care service. The innovative bundling of telemammography, telepathology, and teleoncology services may represent a new paradigm in breast care that helps address the serious issue of fragmentation of breast cancer care in the United States and elsewhere. Legal and regulatory issues in telepathology are being addressed and are regarded as a potential catalyst for the next wave of telepathology advances, applications, and implementations.

Publication types

  • Introductory Journal Article

MeSH terms

  • Computer Communication Networks*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Microscopy / methods
  • Microscopy / trends*
  • Pathology, Surgical / education
  • Pathology, Surgical / methods
  • Pathology, Surgical / trends*
  • Telepathology / methods
  • Telepathology / organization & administration
  • Telepathology / trends*
  • User-Computer Interface