BACKGROUND: The Virtual Microscopy based on completely digitalised histological slide. Concerning this digitalisation many new features in mircoscopy can be processed by the computer. New applications are possible or old, well known techniques of image analyses can be adapted for routine use. AIMS: A so called diagnostic path observes in the way of a professional sees through a histological virtual slide combined with the text information of the dictation process. This feature can be used for image retrieval, quality assurance or for educational purpose. MATERIALS AND METHODS: The diagnostic path implements a metadata structure of image information. It stores and processes the different images seen by a pathologist during his "slide viewing" and the obtained image sequence ("observation path"). Contemporary, the structural details of the pathology reports were analysed. The results were transferred into an XML structure. Based on this structure, a report editor and a search function were implemented. The report editor compiles the "diagnostic path", which is the connection from the image viewing sequence ("observation path") and the oral report sequence of the findings ("dictation path"). The time set ups of speech and image viewing serve for the link between the two sequences. The search tool uses the obtained diagnostic path. It allows the user to search for particular histological hallmarks in pathology reports and in the corresponding images. RESULTS: The new algorithm was tested on 50 pathology reports and 74 attached histological images. The creation of a new individual diagnostic path is automatically performed during the routine diagnostic process. The test prototype experienced an insignificant prolongation of the diagnosis procedure (oral case description and stated diagnosis by the pathologist) and a fast and reliable retrieval, especially useful for continuous education and quality control of case description and diagnostic work. DISCUSSION: The Digital Virtual Microscope has been designed to handle 1000 images per day in the daily routine work of a pathology institution. It implies the necessity of an automatic mechanism of image meta dating. The non - deterministic correlation between the oral statements (case report) and image information content guides the image meta dating. The presented software opens up new possibilities for a content oriented search in a virtual slide, and can successfully support medical education and diagnostic quality assurance.
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