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Future of healthcare

The future of diagnostics is digital

In 40 years the number of new cancer cases in Britain has tripled

25 November 2017

9:00 AM

25 November 2017

9:00 AM




Tackling cancer is a national priority. Newly detected cancer cases and the number of cancer sufferers are on the increase; in 2011 this disease eclipsed cardiovascular disease as the top cause of death in the UK [1]. Improvements in cancer awareness mean more people are coming forward for investigative testing, and more than 1.5 million urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer were made in 2015 — an increase of 50 per cent in the past four years [2]. What is more, as people age, their risk of living with multiple healthcare conditions increases, so any design of cancer services should take into account the management of the elderly population.

The Cancer Strategy for England sees late presentation and a lack of early definitive diagnosis as the key cancer-related challenge faced by the NHS [1]. With diagnosis at an earlier stage consistently associated with better survival, the potential gains are clearly significant.

Technology has a key role to play in making earlier diagnosis a tangible possibility, helping to ease the burden by improving patient outcomes and reducing costs.

Shortening referral times

A perfect storm of rising demand, capital squeeze and workforce deficits has led to an inconsistency in waiting times from referral to actual diagnosis. This is exacerbated by the majority of diagnoses taking place within the hospital system, for both inpatients and outpatients.

As a leader in diagnostic solutions, Philips is working with public and private partners to deliver a solution that will drive efficiencies and introduce additional capacity into the system. Multidisciplinary Community Diagnostic Centres will offer patients access to dedicated facilities within the community setting, helping to alleviate some of the demand on hospitals by efficiently and effectively providing earlier diagnosis using NHS protocols, and ultimately better patient survival rates.

Improving diagnosis capacity

Pathology plays a critical role in the detection and diagnosis in a range of diseases, including cancer: more than 70 per cent of diagnoses are dependent on pathology. In the past 40 years the number of new cancer cases has tripled, with a new cancer diagnosis made every two minutes in the UK alone. However, the growing demand for pathology tests has not been matched by the number of highly trained specialists entering the field [3]. Digitisation of the tissue slide that a pathologist would normally view using a microscope offers huge opportunities. Operationally, preparing a tissue sample for review is a complex process with a number of steps —unlike radiology, where the image is ready to be viewed almost instantly. Technology such as Philips IntelliSite helps pathologists to organise and review a large number of cases quickly and with ease. Listed as one of the 12 most important healthcare innovations for 2017 by Popular Science [4], IntelliSite enables scanned slides to be accessed and reviewed by specialists from virtually anywhere. Reviewing a digital image rather than a glass slide accelerates and streamlines the process, reducing turnaround, and waiting times for patients.

‘The opportunities that digital pathology open up for the future are extraordinary,’ said Peter Hamilton, Philips digital pathology and founder of PathXL Ltd. ‘Provided a lab has moved to 100 per cent digital transformation, the speed of the review process can be improved by 15-25 per cent. This technology not only simplifies the process, but by removing the bottlenecks that exist, the through-put of cases can be accelerated.’

What is more, digitisation can also improve accuracy. Automation of the exchange of information reduces manual errors, such as making sure the right slides are linked to the right patient. They can also be shared with experts anywhere in the world at the press of a button, creating the option of a second opinion where it might not have otherwise been possible. In addition, the computational algorithms used within the Philips IntelliSite solution can distribute cases to the right experts to prioritise workflow, meaning urgent cases get seen at the start of the day.

The East and South Yorkshire Pathology (EASY Path) Network was initially set up between Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust and Philips to prototype a new model of histopathology service delivery, utilising digital pathology. It is exploring the feasibility of including other organisations to create a virtual distributed network of specialist histopathology teams across the boundaries
of individual acute trusts in the region.

‘We want to utilise new technology to comprehensively change the way histopathology services work, not just to introduce new technology for the sake of it,’ said Dr Branko Perunovic, Clinical Director of Laboratory Medicine, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, NHS Foundation Trust. ‘Digital technology can “shrink geography”, enabling pathologists who are located miles apart to still function as a team, participating in the same diagnostic pathways, consulting with colleagues or contributing to multidisciplinary cancer team meetings.

‘EASY Path is taking an iterative approach to moving pathology from “bricks” to “clicks”. We are systematically tackling a number of organisational, clinical, scientific and IT issues, aiming to put in place end-to-end digital processes, roll out advanced scientific roles, subspecialisation and remote working — all required for service transformation and scaling-up. Ultimately, we want to enable subspecialist teams to work in an agile way across multiple organisations, improve clinical, operational and financial effectiveness of the service and provide equitable access to subspecialist pathology to all patients.’

Removing information silos

Technology holds the key to bringing together all key patient and medical data in one location, so that clinicians have a clear and intuitive view of a patient’s status across the pathway, from early detection, diagnosis, treatment and homecare. Philips IntelliSpace Oncology, which will be launched in the UK in 2018, is a new cloud-based cancer decision support solution that uses artificial intelligence to ensure seamless data integration across specialities and locations. Available through a single-view dashboard, IntelliSpace Oncology offers powerful data mining and analytics capabilities that integrate a hospital’s cancer patient records. This means clinicians have easy access to an extensive patient database, enabling them to compare their patients’ data with that of other patients who have similar characteristics to gain data-driven insights into treatment choices and the effects those choices have on patients’ quality of life.

Patients will invariably need to make many difficult choices about their treatment path and care, so having the ability to view all the relevant data is key to helping them make solid decisions along with their doctor. In fact, according to the Future Health Index, an international report commissioned by Philips, 56 per cent of the UK’s general population believe the use of connected care technology improved their cancer experience. IntelliSpace Oncology enables deeper patient involvement through personalised educational materials, access to status dashboards, patient-reported outcomes and satisfaction surveys, along with family and care-giver support.

At Philips, we believe in seamless care: partnering with healthcare systems to unlock the collective potential of data, technology and, most importantly, people. Technology can cut through complexity to improve productivity and organise care seamlessly around people so everyone receives the right care in the right place, at the right time. As a result, Philips is committed to supporting the NHS as it moves towards adopting and integrating digital solutions and technology to support diagnosis and treatment, and ultimately transform healthcare.

For more information on Philips and its solutions, visit:

[1] The Lancet,
[2] Achieving World Class Cancer Outcomes: Taking the strategy forward, May 2016,
[4] Popular Science,

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