Telepathology as a Commons

The blog post is re-published from Silke Helfrich’s German-language CommonsBlog.

Access to Pathology Expertise: How can we turn this luxury into a global commons? This is the question asked by Jacques Paysan from Carl Zeiss MicroImaging GmbH during the World Commons Forum held in Salzburg on September 29-30. The success of medical treatment crucially depends on accurate diagnosis by an experienced pathologist. This is particularly true for tumour surgery, transplantation medicine, and diagnosis of infections. In a nutshell: No diagnosis, no therapy!

To convert pathology-diagnosis-capacity into a global commons, broadband internet connection is needed, and the necessary infrastructure to transmit information has to be built up. Digital slides can be very large (hundreds of MB or even hundreds of GB). However, since technologies similar to Google Earth are used to visualize these images (you don’t have to download the entire earth for peeking from satellite perspective onto your house), broadband connections as common in Europe are usually sufficient. Perhaps some kind of digital siren and flashing red-light to give priority to medically relevant image data on the information highway would help (as we grant it for an ambulance on the motorway). Hundreds of such systems are already implemented in developed countries and you can test the technology yourself: e.g. here.

So why shouldn’t this be possible, given the political will and generating cooperation among the pathologist-community, the microscope producing companies (even those who compete), the digital-commoners and some crucial political actors? Why not build -- right now -- a global infrastructure for data sharing for this kind of life saving uses? If it is possible to fly to the moon or to put finally the fibre optic undersea cable which connects African countries to the internet, why shouldn’t it be possible to build the infrastructure to pool pathologist’s expertise?

It would be interesting to get the project in touch with open medicine initiatives, the Health Commons Project and many others, to get their feedback.