Issues: Optical digital imaging and its related technologies have applications in cytopathology that encompass training and education, image analysis, diagnosis, report documentation and archiving, and telecommunications. Telecytology involves the use of telecommunications to transmit cytology images for the purposes of diagnosis, consultation or education. This working paper provides a mainly informational overview of optical digital imaging and summarizes current technologic resources and applications and some of the ethical and legal implications of the use of these new technologies in cytopathology.
Consensus position: Computer hardware standards for optical digital imagery will continue to be driven mainly by commercial interests and nonmedical imperatives, but professional organizations can play a valuable role in developing recommendations or standards for digital image sampling, documentation, archiving, authenticity safeguards and teleconsultation protocols; in addressing patient confidentiality and ethical, legal and informed consent issues; and in providing support for quality assurance and standardization of digital image-based testing. There is some evidence that high levels of accuracy for telepathology diagnosis can be achieved using existing dynamic systems, which may also be applicable to telecytology consultation. Static systems for both telepathology and telecytology, which have the advantage of considerably lower cost, appear to have lower levels of accuracy. Laboratories that maintain digital image databases should adopt practices and protocols that ensure patient confidentiality. Individuals participating in telecommunication of digital images for diagnosis should be properly qualified, meet licensing requirements and use procedures that protect patient confidentiality. Such individuals should be cognizant of the limitations of the technology and employ quality assurance practices that ensure the validity and accuracy of each consultation. Even in an informal teleconsultation setting one should define the extent of participation and be mindful of potential malpractice liability.
Ongoing issues: Digital imagery applications will continue to present new opportunities and challenges. Position papers such as this are directed toward assisting the profession to stay informed and in control of these applications in the laboratory. Telecytology is an area in particular need of studies of good quality to provide data on factors affecting accuracy. New technologic approaches to addressing the issue of selective sampling in static image consultation are needed. The use of artificial intelligence software as an adjunct to enhance the accuracy and reproducibility of cytologic diagnosis of digital images in routine and consultation settings deserves to be pursued. Other telecytology-related issues that require clarification and the adoption of workable guidelines include interstate licensure and protocols to define malpractice liability.