Pathology departments set the tone for tele-collaboration in new Italian network

Udine 14 March 2000The Italian Ministry of University and Research has selected and subsequently co-financed a new project of relevant national interest, entitled "Italian Network of Telemedicine for research, education, and quality control in Anatomic Pathology" (RITAP). The project is co-ordinated by Dr. Carlo Alberto Beltrami, who is Professor in the Institute of Pathology at the University of Udine, and currently involves four other Italian universities, which are Ancona, Bari, Ferrara, and Sassari. This network will enable a greater collaboration among participants, and will equally be open to other medical disciplines. In this way, RITAP will become a model which can be adopted in a wider context.

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Dr. Vincenzo Della Mea, who has been appointed as technical co-ordinator of the project, explained that the network will be based on easily available standard protocols and communication tools including a particular attention to the Internet. The network activities will consist in a collaborative research projects development, based on telematic tools; a creation of multi-media case archives for training and continuing education; the collaborative authoring of multi-media educational material; and a study and application of telematic methods for quality control in anatomic pathology. The resulting set of methods, tools and guidelines will be further extended to a variety of other participants. Several universities have already expressed their interest in joining the research group.

Anatomic pathology is a typically image-based medical discipline which aims at the morphological study of lesions induced by diseases, and at offering the information to obtain a correct diagnosis and to establish a prognosis. In the RITAP project, the store-and-forward methodology will be applied to build a multi-media archive of anatomo-pathological cases based on static histologic images, for didactic purposes, professional training, and quality control. The participants will be able to send each other cases via electronic mail and also to insert example cases in archived files on the Internet for consultation. A multi-media case description includes textual data, such as clinical history and patient information, and histo-pathological images.

The images, obtained from a light microscope, must have a sufficient quality in resolution and colour coding, in order to transmit the required diagnostic information. As a result, the complete preparation of a case involves image selection and acquisition, storage in an appropriate format, aggregation with clinical data, and finally transmission. The transmission time is dependent on the image file size. Therefore, compression methods are utilised to reduce the amount of memory needed for storage through lossless algorithms for a fully reversible image, or lossy algorithms in which some of the visual data is lost after decompression. The RITAP Web site also hosts a submission screen where the participants are able to insert and modify cases, as well as access and search the archive.

More information on the project is available at the home page of the RITAP project. If you wish to know more about the activities of our Virtual Medical Worlds Community partner Dr. Vincenzo Della Mea with regard to the store-and-forward method for telepathology, we invite you to read the VMW October 1999 articles: Remote pathology diagnosis enhanced through high-resolution digital photomicrography and Internet e-mail and Theory and practice of Store-and-Forward Telemedicine over the Internet in a nutshell.


Leslie Versweyveld

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