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Barts Health and Sectra start digital pathology programme for 3 million people

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A programme to enhance patient diagnoses, speed up turnaround times and modernise pathology services has begun at Barts Health NHS Trust.

The initiative will improve clinical collaboration and access to specialists, build foundations for the introduction of AI, and harness data to support life sciences and important clinical research.

The Trust has started to deploy a digital pathology network spanning multiple hospitals that will transform pathology services, improve patient care, and support ground-breaking research.

Microscopes will no longer be relied on, professionals will be equipped with advanced imaging technology analysis tools and the means to better collaborate, and the initiative will allow faster, safer and improved reporting of important examinations for a population of more than three million people.

The programme, being delivered in collaboration with medical imaging IT and cybersecurity company Sectra, is being deployed across four hospitals within Barts Health with the help of funding provided by Barts Charity. The scalable imaging technology platform underpinning the initiative will also provide potential for future expansion of the programme to additional trusts.

Dr Hasan Rizvi, a consultant histopathologist at Barts Health, and clinical lead for the digital pathology programme, said: “We are creating a connected network of pathologists. People will no longer be chained to microscopes. It will be much easier for pathologists to collaborate with colleagues and to instantly share a link to images with other specialists for their input, potentially bringing expertise from across London, the UK, or even from around the world, to our patients.

“Removing analogue workflow processes will remove unnecessary delay in diagnoses, which in the case of acute tumours, could mean the difference between life and death. Staff will no longer need to prepare slides to be sent via courier, where they might be broken or go missing. Scarce specialists will save hours of their time traditionally spent screening slides. We will be better positioned to produce the next generation of pathologists. And patients themselves will have access to their pathology images allowing them to easily move between hospitals or seek second opinions without their pathology lagging behind.”

The digital programme will support strategic trust ambitions around patient care and life sciences and will address pathology workforce challenges currently faced in the NHS.

Sarah Jensen, chief information officer at Barts Health NHS Trust, said: “Digitising pathology is fundamental to Barts Health making great strides towards preventative care, to solving problems for the people who need it the most, to removing geography constraints for our workforce and to opening research potential for one of the largest trusts in the NHS.

“This programme is hugely important to connecting the dots for life sciences – a central focus for the future of our health services. Codified data will contribute to developing longitudinal health records for patients. And researchers will be able to inform research and back up findings with links to slides.

“For patients with cancer and other rare diseases, this is a high priority, allowing us to bring together pockets of clinical information, to build the infrastructure needed for genomic sequencing and to build a data core that includes pathology.”

The programme is expected to help with recruitment and retention. It will create a modern workplace, will enable flexible virtual training and will allow professionals to carry out more work from home, which could help to retain professionals currently approaching retirement, for example.

It will also transform how multi-disciplinary teams function. “A cancer MDT might have a radiologist, a histopathologist and an oncologist or clinician in the room, deciding a treatment plan, diagnosis, or therapy,” added Jensen. “Currently there is still a microscope, and a radiology workstation in the room. In the Sectra system, professionals can pull up radiology images and pathology images simultaneously, allowing better comparisons and more objective clinical decisions, whilst saving significant preparation time that would be otherwise required ahead of meetings.”

Specifically, pathologists will interact with a platform known as a picture archiving and communication system or PACS, provided by Sectra, which will display high resolution images of slides on screen. The enterprise platform is already used in the trust by radiologists to examine patient images including x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs.

Jane Rendall, UK managing director at Sectra, said: “Barts Health is our longest established partner in the NHS. The team at the trust has shown remarkable commitment to using the radiology module of our imaging technology to innovate in streamlining workflows and in delivering patient care. We are privileged to be working with the trust to deliver the digitisation of another crucial discipline as part of its strategic vision.

“We look forward to seeing the results for pathologists, other healthcare professionals and patients from the implementation, and to sharing our experiences from working with other parts of the NHS in the digital pathology domain.”

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