Top 3 Benefits & Use Cases of AI in Pathology in 2024

Pathology plays a vital role in healthcare, guiding treatment decisions through diagnosis of disease and malignancies. However, pathologists today face increasing workloads amidst staff shortages, constrained budgets, and pressure for faster lab results. Errors in diagnosis remain an issue as well.

Artificial intelligence (AI) promises to help pathology overcome these challenges and enhance patient care. By automating repetitive tasks, AI systems enable pathologists to work faster and more accurately.

This article explores the key benefits pathologists are already seeing from AI-powered solutions and highlights real-world use cases showcasing the technology‘s potential.

The Challenges Facing Pathology

To understand why AI adoption is growing quickly, it‘s important to consider the challenges pathology currently faces:

  • Increasing workload volumes: As populations age and cancer testing rises, pathologists‘ workloads continue to grow 3-5% annually.

  • Staffing shortages: A 2017 study found the US alone will face a shortage of over 1,700 pathologists by 2030. It‘s difficult to recruit and retain staff.

  • Budget constraints: Many labs face tight budgets and pressure to reduce costs while improving quality.

  • Faster turnaround times: Patients and providers demand faster diagnosis and test results. Delays can negatively impact treatment.

  • Diagnostic errors: Studies show an average of 3-5% diagnosis error rate in pathology. Errors can lead to improper treatment.

Facing these pressures, many pathology labs are turning to AI solutions to automate repetitive, error-prone tasks and boost staff productivity.

The Benefits of AI in Pathology

AI and machine learning promise to augment human pathologists‘ capabilities and alleviate these challenges in two main ways:

1. More Accurate Analysis

Pathology requires detecting minute details and patterns in complex visual information – a perfect fit for AI‘s capabilities.

Computer vision and deep learning algorithms can analyze digital images of biopsies and slides pixel-by-pixel. This allows AI to identify anomalies and malignancies difficult or impossible for humans to spot.

For example, researchers at Hospital del Mar in Barcelona developed an AI system to analyze digital prostate biopsy images. By assessing the architectural patterns in glandular tissue, the AI detected cancer with 95% accuracy – surpassing the 87% accuracy of pathologists alone.

Enhanced accuracy builds confidence in diagnosis and helps avoid improper treatment. As Dr. Yukako Yagi, pathologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering notes:

"If AI can find something that a human cannot, it will contribute significantly to cancer diagnosis and treatment."

2. Increased Productivity

In addition to improving analysis, AI automation also enables pathologists to work faster and complete more cases.

AI can take over high-volume repetitive tasks pathologists spend significant time on:

  • Screening and classifying slides
  • Quantifying tumor regions
  • Detecting positive cases for further review
  • Prioritizing urgent cases
  • Tracking specimens and workflow

This frees up pathologists‘ time from mundane work for more high-value analysis.

For example, when Tissue Analytics‘ AI was deployed at Inova Health System‘s pathology lab, the average slide review time decreased from 2 minutes to just 30 seconds. The faster reviews allowed pathologists to increase slide volumes by over 50%.

Top 3 Use Cases of AI in Pathology

Now let‘s look at some specific use cases that showcase the benefits and potential of AI in pathology:

Use Case 1: Automated Mitotic Figure Quantification

Manually counting mitotic figures (dividing cells) in tissue samples is a vital step in determining tumor proliferation rates and malignancy grades. However, this is an extremely tedious process – a pathologist may spend up to 45 minutes quantifying a single slide.

AI automation is proving to drastically reduce the hands-on time needed for mitotic quantification:

  • One study focused on breast cancer found that an AI system reduced the processing time by 27.8% compared to manual counting. This increased laboratory efficiency and capacity.

  • Another pilot project applying AI at BDI Pathology increased mitotic count speed by a factor of 6 to 8.

By slashing the time spent on quantification, AI systems enable pathologists to reallocate time to more strategic tasks while ensuring counts remain accurate.

Use Case 2: Resolving Tissue Floater Contamination

During the slicing process, tissue floaters – extraneous fragments of tissue – can contaminate slides. This is a common source of misdiagnosis. As seen below, the main tissue being analyzed can easily be confused with contaminant floaters on the same slide.

Tissue floater contamination

Figure 1. Tissue floater cross-contamination on a specimen slide (Source: APLM)

Manually screening for floaters under a microscope is time-consuming. But AI-powered image analysis tools can automatically detect extraneous tissue fragments.

By flagging likely contaminants, the AI allows pathologists to focus analysis on the pertinent regions of interest and avoid distraction by floaters. This improves accuracy while providing time savings.

In one study, an AI-powered image search system correctly identified tissue floaters with 95% accuracy, demonstrating the technology‘s potential.

Use Case 3: Patient Management and Laboratory Workflow

AI promises to optimize workflows and improve speed and efficiency throughout the pathology process.

In digital pathology labs, AI can:

  • Verify specimen images and patient data, ensuring each element matches the pathology request

  • Route cases intelligently based on criteria like urgency for accelerated handling

  • Prioritize expedited cases, flagging those requiring rapid response

  • Track all materials and digitized slides to avoid misplacement

  • Alert for additional tests needed based on initial findings

  • Generate draft automaticStructured pathology reports for pathologist review

Workflows enhanced by AI reduce clerical tasks for staff, cut down on errors, and speed up sample analysis turnaround.

Pathologist Perspectives on AI Benefits

Pathologists implementing AI solutions highlight the benefits of augmented intelligence from their firsthand experience:

"AI allows us toTrust the AI and focus only on the outliers instead of wasting time re-reviewing normal slides. This allows me to focus on challenging cases." – Dr. Michael Misialek, Newton Wellesley Hospital

"In essence, the If the AI pre-screens all our cases, we can rely on it to accurately identify the benign cases so we‘re focused only on the critical ones.the AI acts as a triage system, accelerating turnaround on priority cases." – Dr. Liron Pantanowitz, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

"AI isn‘t replacing pathologists, it‘s making us better. The technology handles tedious, repetitive tasks We‘re excited to have AI handle the grunt work so we can focus on high-level analysis and diagnosis." – Dr. Anil Parwani, The Ohio State University College of Medicine

These perspectives showcase how AI adoption is being driven by the desire to augment human capabilities and productivity – not replace pathologists.

Overcoming AI Adoption Challenges

Implementing AI does come with challenges. Integrating AI solutions with existing laboratory systems and workflows takes thoughtful change management.

Pathology leaders driving successful AI adoption recommend:

  • Get buy-in from pathologists by demonstrating value, not leading with the technology

  • Take an iterative approach – pilot projects first, then expand scope

  • Involve technologists and pathologists closely in solution design

  • Minimize workflow changes and integrate AI seamlessly into existing systems

  • Provide ongoing training and support as users adapt to new tools

With a collaborative approach, pathology teams can overcome adoption hurdles to realize AI‘s benefits.

The Outlook for AI in Pathology

AI adoption in pathology is forecasted for rapid growth as pioneering applications reveal benefits.

According to one estimate, the market for AI in pathology will expand at over 20% CAGR, reaching $420 million by 2028.

In the future, we can expect AI automation to expand from analysis of 2D images to 3D scanning and digitization of whole slides. Additional applications on the horizon include:

  • Automated tissue slicing and staining
  • Rapid contamination detection
  • Intelligent sample routing and triage
  • AI-generated structured pathology reports
  • Real-time guidance for pathologists during diagnosis

Rather than replacing pathologists, AI aims to collaborate with them – handling repetitive tasks while enhancing human capabilities. By augmenting staff expertise and productivity, AI-enabled labs can deliver faster, more accurate results, supporting better patient care.

The outlook is bright for AI optimization as pathology embraces the future.

For guidance on implementing AI solutions, PathAI and Ibex Medical Analytics offer reliable options. Feel free to reach out if your pathology team needs help getting started. Our advisors can provide vendor recommendations and implementation guidance tailored to your needs.