ViewsIQ helps speed up disease diagnosis anywhere in the world by taking pathology digital
A small startup based in a Richmond office park is confronting an infirmity that has dogged Canadian medicine and presented around the globe—a shortage of pathologists.
The specialized doctors, who diagnose diseases from tissue samples and tests, play a key role in determining treatment. As Canada’s population ages and cancer cases become more numerous and complex, there aren’t enough pathologists to handle the workload, studies show. “We have a team of just under 10, and we’re trying to tackle this major problem in the world,” says CEO Herman Lo, who founded ViewsIQ in 2010.
ViewsIQ has developed a software system called Panoptiq that works with any hospital microscope. Panoptiq allows users to capture slides (of a tumour biopsy, for example) digitally and view them on a computer screen. Rather than mail slides to pathologists, who may be located at another clinical site, technicians can make the images instantly available to be viewed by specialists on any computer or mobile device via cloud-based storage. The platform also allows specialists to collaborate and make case notes on a file.
“Our technology is already very akin to what they’re accustomed to doing, especially for the clinician driving the microscope,” says Lo, who has an MASc in industrial, biomedical and computer engineering from the University of Toronto and a BASc in systems engineering from SFU. “It’s not some foreign piece of equipment. They control everything—how they digitize it, what they see. Rather than replacing the microscope, we are embracing the microscope.”
Lo says ViewsIQ has about 30 clients in North America, Europe and Asia, including Vancouver General Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. David Curtis Wilbur, director of the clinical imaging service at MGH, says Panoptiq could become “the desk accessory of the future” because it captures the complexity of specimens better than conventional slide scanners. The software records video of the sample, so afterward the clinician can scroll through multiple planes of focus onscreen as if looking into a microscope.
ViewsIQ recently sold Panoptiq to the health department of the Federated States of Micronesia, where no pathologist resides. The system can help doctors in remote areas to receive faster diagnoses, but the challenge for Lo is to convince health service providers to adopt the change. “Many pathologists appreciate the beauty of technology and what goodness it brings to their lives, because they don’t appreciate driving hours to this lab [or a hospital] just for one case,” he says, explaining that a pathologist must often be present at a surgery to diagnose a sample. “It’s a matter of slowly accepting the practice.”