A successful digital pathology system implementation depends upon careful planning and commitment. Most pathologists are hesitant to move from the gold standard of glass slides to a digital image-based platform. Today, however, whole-slide scanners can provide high quality images that allow pathologists increased flexibility for case management and collaboration with other pathologists. As the technology continues to grow, digital pathology will soon become the new gold standard.
This article is the first in a two-part series to aide in the implementation of a digital pathology system. Using a systematic approach and standard project management principles, you can engage your team and keep your project on track. By working through the following steps, you will increase your chances of a successful system implementation within a reasonable timeframe defined by you and your project team.
Initiating the Project:
The project sponsor, the project leader, and the project manager should work together to fully define the project, the project team, and the project timeline. Completing a project charter or summary will define the parameters of your project, keeping your team on track, and focused.
The project charter or summary should:
1. Identify the Project Stakeholders.
- Project Sponsor: The sponsor is the individual driving the change, approving the project scope, timeline, and the deliverables. S/he works closely with the team leader to ensure the project stays on track and that deliverables are met according to the timeline. A pathologist with a vision for how digital pathology and telepathology can elevate the quality and effectiveness of their practice is ideal for this role. S/he must be a champion for the project and be committed to its success. Without this commitment, other priorities may interfere, jeopardizing the project’s success.
- Project Leader: The leader manages the project, sets the meeting agendas & runs the project meetings. S/he assigns tasks and coordinates off-line activities as necessary to ensure their completion. The leader should have a strong relationship with the sponsor and be able to influence others, engaging them in the project’s success.
- Project Manager: The project manager coaches the sponsor and leader to ensure that the project stays on track. S/he provides feedback regarding the project management process and provides resources and/or tools for managing the different aspects of the project as needed. Many organizations have a Project Management Department that can assign resources to assist a new project leader. The leader may also serve as the project manager with enough experience.
- Team Members: Make sure the critical players are involved from the start to ensure their commitment to the project. A project of this scope requires representation from your IT Department, the laboratory staff responsible for operating the system, the pathologist staff, and the vendor of choice.
- Other Stakeholders: Individuals with a significant interest in the outcome of the project should be kept in the communication loop. Organizational leadership with an interest in telemedicine or senior IT leaders may well be interested in the project’s progression and the impact it may have on organizational priorities.
2. Define the Project Scope.
- What is the opportunity for improvement or problem that you are trying to solve? Are you implementing a basic digital pathology platform to maintain images for later use in education or research, or are you implementing a system that will support collaboration between pathologists or even organizations? What is your start point? Will researching the options for scanners and platforms be part of your project, or have you made your purchase decision and now need to plan the installation and implementation of your new system?
- What is your end point? Define your end point specifically to prevent “scope creep”.
- What are your measures of success? Utilization of your system is frequently a good measure of success, ex. percentage of pathologists using the system, number of slides scanned per month, etc.
3. Summarize the Business Case of the Project: understanding the importance of the project builds commitment to its success.
- Why is this project important now? Is your current system of managing microscopic slides or images becoming overwhelming or obsolete? Is there a demand for whole slide microscopic images from your pathologists?
- Does your project align with the strategic direction of your organization? If so, you may be able to gain senior leadership support for the project.
- What is the projected Return on Investment?
- The business case summary may start with a statement(s) similar to the following:
A digital pathology platform provides pathology with resources that improve patient safety, expand our expert review services and enhance our professional and business relationships with other regional facilities. This initiative also places pathology in direct alignment with the strategic direction of our organization by promoting telepathology services with both our internal & external colleagues.
4. Define the Project Timeline.
- What are the project milestones? Breaking the project up into key phases with defined timelines will help keep the project on track. Possible milestones might include:
i. Months 1-3: System acquisition and installation
ii. Months 4-5: Training of key staff and development of operational procedures
iii. Month 6: System roll-out to include user training and go-live
iv. Months 7-9: Collaboration with an external regional practice
Now that you have defined the parameters of your project, you may want to open your charter with a summary statement similar to the following:
There is an opportunity to improve “the management of microscopic images of surgical pathology slides” starting with “creating a whole slide image of a finished slide” and ending with “active utilization of whole slide images by staff pathologists for teaching, education, quality assurance activities and collaboration”. This project is important now because “our current slide management system is work intensive and risks loss of important patient material due to broken or lost slides”.
Defining your project parameters in a project charter provides direction for a successful system implementation. Your project team and key stakeholders know what is expected of them and what they can expect from the project. Your timeline will help keep the project on track and alert you to potential issues requiring your attention or additional resource investment.
Be sure to check out part two of this series as it will provide you with a guideline for managing the implementation of your Digital Pathology System.