Eye-movement study and human performance using telepathology virtual slides. Implications for medical education and differences with experience

Elizabeth A. Krupinski, Allison A. Tillack, Lynne Richter, Jeffrey T. Henderson, Achyut K. Bhattacharyya, Katherine M. Scott, Anna R. Graham, Michael R. Descour, John R. Davis, Ronald S. Weinstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

218 Scopus citations


A core skill in diagnostic pathology is light microscopy. Remarkably little is known about human factors that affect the proficiency of pathologists as light microscopists. The cognitive skills of pathologists have received relatively little attention in comparison with the large literature on human performance studies in radiology. One reason for this lack of formal visual search studies in pathology has been the physical restrictions imposed by the close positioning of a microscope operator's head to the microscope's eyepieces. This blocks access to the operator's eyes and precludes assessment of the microscopist's eye movements. Virtual slide microscopy now removes this barrier and opens the door for studies on human factors and visual search strategies in light microscopy. The aim of this study was to assess eye movements of medical students, pathology residents, and practicing pathologists examining virtual slides on a digital display monitor. Whole histopathology glass slide digital images, so-called virtual slides, of 20 consecutive breast core biopsy cases were used in a retrospective study. These high-quality virtual slides were produced with an array-microscope equipped DMetrix DX-40 ultrarapid virtual slide processor (DMetrix, Tucson, Ariz). Using an eye-tracking device, we demonstrated for the first time that when a virtual slide reader initially looks at a virtual slide his or her eyes are very quickly attracted to regions of interest (ROIs) within the slide and that these ROIs are likely to contain diagnostic information. In a matter of seconds, critical decisions are made on the selection of ROIs for further examination at higher magnification. We recorded: (1) the time virtual slide readers spent fixating on self-selected locations on the video monitor; (2) the characteristics of the ways the eyes jumped between fixation locations; and (3) x and y coordinates for each virtual slide marking the sites the virtual slide readers manually selected for zooming to higher ROI magnifications. We correlated the locations of the visually selected fixation locations and the manually selected ROIs. Viewing profiles were identified for each group. Fully trained pathologists spent significantly less time (mean, 4.471 seconds) scanning virtual slides when compared to pathology residents (mean, 7.148 seconds) or medical students (mean, 11.861 seconds), but had relatively prolonged saccadic eye movements (P < .0001). Saccadic eye movements are defined as eye movements between fixation locations. On the other hand, the pathologists spent significantly more time than trainees dwelling on the 3 locations they subsequently chose for zooming. Unlike either the medical students or the residents, the pathologists frequently choose areas for viewing at higher magnification outside of areas of foveal (central) vision. Eye movement studies of scanning pathways (scan paths) may be useful for developing eye movement profiles for individuals and for understanding the difference in performances between novices and experts. They may also be useful for developing new visual search strategies for rendering diagnoses on telepathology virtual slides.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1543-1556
Number of pages14
JournalHuman pathology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2006


  • Eye movements
  • Human factors
  • Novice versus expert performance
  • Telepathology
  • Virtual microscopy
  • Virtual slides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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