The Institute of Pathology at the University of Bern enters the era of ‘digital’ on account of the pandemic

The Institute of Pathology at the University of Bern enters the era of ‘digital’ on account of the pandemic

From theory...

Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), 18. October 2021 – The medical world has been moving to digitalisation for many years now. And pathology departments are no exception - the term “digital pathology” is increasingly part of day-to-day vocabulary. Digitalisation ensures a higher analytical quality while, at the same time, opening up possibilities for quicker second opinions and remote access to digital cases.
 

In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe and quarantine was imposed in several countries. Hospital departments found their traditional smooth organisation turned upside down.

No one had imagined such a situation, including the Berne Pathology Institute, which was obviously not prepared for such a scenario. “It was really challenging. We were trying to figure out how to keep our staff safe, either working at home or on shifts to avoid being together. Some colleagues were in quarantine. But our patients still needed their diagnoses, and many of these patients were having a first diagnosis of cancer. Being unable to provide our diagnostic service was simply out of the question”, explained Professor Zlobec, Head of the Translational Research Unit.

It was time to react - to get organised and carry out diagnoses in times of lockdown.

 

...to practice.

“Before the pandemic, our institute routinely analysed more than 1800 slides every day.
With the lockdown, our activities slowed, since fewer surgeries were being performed. This gave us a unique opportunity, namely to start to work out how we could eventually offer our pathologists a way to make diagnoses from home, using digital scans”.

The Institute was already equipped with a TM-Microscopy solution for research purposes, which handles thousands of digital images. From there, a clinical solution was developed together, through daily exchanges with both teams at Telemis and the Institute in Bern. In less than 3 weeks, a viewing system capable of managing, viewing and annotating digital scans was created, enabling for the first time diagnosis from digital images to be performed remotely. In addition to the viewer interface, a basic integration with the LIS (Laboratory Information System) and the slide scanners was made.

Dedicated pathologists performed quality control to verify the safety of the system by carrying out both analogue and digital readings. Thanks to a real team effort and the medical validation of the system, the Bern Pathology Institute has a first version of an integrated, digital pathology solution. Future integrations and enhancements to the system will deliver an even more rapid high-quality service.

Telemis and the commitment from both teams got us through a difficult time. With our pathologists living in different cities across Switzerland, delivering slides to them, including those outside of the city of Bern was not any kind of solution”.

 

Today, the collaboration of both teams continues, as the system is being optimised so that the digital pathology workflow from start to finish works seamlessly. The objective now is not only to use Telemis for primary diagnostics, but also for education, second opinions and tumor boards, with the eventual inclusion of artificial intelligence algorithms. “One of the great things about working with Telemis is that the system is open. Telemis is able to handle images from different scanners and can integrate third-party software, such as algorithms from different companies or the ones we develop ourselves”, added Prof. Zlobec.

The COVID-19 health crisis has highlighted the importance of digitalisation both for hospitals and for private companies. The current context has pushed us all to accept change and to accelerate the digital transformation in our day-to-day existence whether this is in our professional activities or in our private lives. The way in which digitalisation has been taken up in Bern means that the Pathology Institute there is now a leading figure in the domain.