I was talking with another analyst the other day by the name of John Koller of Kai Consulting who specializes in the medical space and he was talking about the rise of electronic pathology (e-pathology). I hadn’t heard about this one.
He said that just like radiology had done in the recent past, pathology investigations are moving to make use of digital formats.
What does that mean?
The biopsies taken today for cancer and disease diagnosis which involve one more specimens of tissue examined under a microscope will now be digitized and the digital files will be inspected instead of the original slide.
Apparently microscopic examinations typically use a 1×3 inch slide that can have the whole slide devoted to some tissue matter. To be able to do a pathological examination, one has to digitize the whole slide, under magnification at various depths within the tissue. According to Koller, any tissue is essentially a 3D structure and pathological exams, must inspect different depths (slices) within this sample to form their diagnosis.
I was struck by the need for different slices of the same specimen. I hadn’t anticipated that but whenever I look in a microscope, I am always adjusting the focal length, showing different depths within the slide. So it makes sense, if you want to understand the pathology of a tissue sample, multiple views (or slices) at different depths are a necessity.
So what does a slide take in storage capacity?
Koller said, an uncompressed, full slide will take about 300GB of space. However, with compression and the fact that most often the slide is not completely used, a more typical space consumption would be on the order of 3 to 5GB per specimen.
As for volume, Koller indicated that a medium hospital facility (~300 beds) typically does around 30K radiological studies a year but do about 10X that in pathological studies. So at 300K pathological examinations done a year, we are talking about 90 to 150TB of digitized specimen images a year for a mid-sized hospital.
Why move to e-pathology?
It can open up a whole myriad of telemedicine offerings similar to the radiological study services currently available around the globe. Today, non-electronic pathology involves sending specimens off to a local lab and examination by medical technicians under microscope. But with e-pathology, the specimen gets digitized (where, the hospital, the lab, ?) and then the digital files can be sent anywhere around the world, wherever someone is qualified and available to scrutinize them.
At a recent analyst event we were discussing big data and aside from the analytics component and other markets, the vendor made mention of content archives are starting to explode. Given where e-pathology is heading, I can understand why.
It’s great to be in the storage business