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Region Skåne Digitizes the Pathology Laboratories in Whole of Southern Sweden

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Region Skåne, the authority in charge of primary and secondary public health care for the whole southern part of Sweden, has selected Software Point and LABVANTAGE to deliver a $4 million turn-key solution for digitizing the histopathological workflows in the whole region. The system will be possibly the largest such installation in the world and among the first of its kind in northern Europe.

Digitizing pathology means turning traditional microscope glass slides into digital images, which are then analysed by pathologists directly from the computer screen, instead of using regular microscopes. This is a similar revolution in pathology as which has already taken place in radiology. The contracted delivery not only digitizes the slides but will completely renew the IT support for all workflows of the pathology laboratories in the Skåne region.

The four pathology laboratories run by Region Skåne produce about 400,000 histological microscope slides a year. Currently, the samples are prepared into microscope slides and are then physically distributed to pathologists. Slides are then analyzed using regular microscopes. There is currently limited IT support for the workflow, making it difficult to track the status of pending cases and to identify the bottlenecks in the production workflow.

Skåne is challenged by the workload of pathologists spread over four laboratory sites in the region. The challenges are mostly related to physical slides, which can only reside – and be analyzed – in one place at a time. With the digital pathology in place, all pathologists from all laboratories of Skåne can gain access to all cases and related slides. Together with the introduction of digital pathology, another goal of Region Skåne is to introduce so-called LEAN workflows.

”It is really exciting for me to get to lead the Pathology department into a completely new digital era, which should provide us with improvements both for quality and patient safety by better utilizing the competencies of all of our  pathologists in the whole region,” comments Lena Luts, Division Chief for Clinical Pathology in Region Skåne.

The digitizing will not only ease the distribution of slides for the pathologists’ viewing but will also solve the needs for storage. Swedish law requires Region Skåne to keep all slides for a minimum of 20 years, and today this requires a lot of physical space. It is also difficult to retrieve a particular case from the archive. In the digitized format, the annual production of about 400,000 glass slides will consume a respectable 300 terabytes of storage each year. Region Skåne believes that having the slides in digital format not only makes them more accessible but will also save costs in the long run. Digitizing such a large volume of slides and analyzing them on the computer screen will make this installation possibly the largest of its kind in the world.

A key component in the delivery is a new workflow management system, which will manage both the pre-analytical and analytical stages of the laboratory process. An adapted version of Software Point’s C5 LIMS will be in total charge of managing the workflows and tracking all events within. It will maintain a real-time status of each sample, slide and case, and will ease the work of both laboratory technicians and pathologists with advanced functionalities such as integration to laboratory automation, datamatrix labeling of all objects, and speech recognition for pathologists.

The digitized slides are seamlessly integrated into the C5 LIMS workflows and are directly accessible from all pathologist workstations in the region. Slide scanning will be handled by 14 slide scanners placed in four locations. Images are saved directly into a centralized database. This part of the solution comes from Aperio Technologies, a U.S. company and the world leader in digital pathology, who are represented in Sweden by LRI Instrument AB.

The digital slides will reside in Hitachi’s Content Platform, which employs distributed object storage. All of the images will be kept exceptionally well-protected, duplicated across several physical discs. This makes the traditional backing up of data unnecessary.

The total delivery also includes diagnostic workstations and a speech recognition system for pathologists’ use. The work of the pathologists will be further eased by the introduction of computerized image analysis algorithms, which can automate tasks such as cell counting.

 “This is an important milestone for us. Our workflow-centric C5 LIMS, complemented with the best of breed systems from Aperio and Hitachi, make up a solution unlike anything else on the market. We see tremendous potential in digital pathology and this is one key element in our strategy for further expanding the position of our LIMS in the healthcare marketplace,” comments Andrea Holmberg, CEO of Software Point.

The system will be delivered under total responsibility of Software Point. It will be taken to limited production before end of 2011 and full production will begin in 2012. Software Point will also provide Region Skåne with extensive maintenance services to ensure the continuous operation of the system.