Digitizing cytology slides presents challenges because of their three-dimensional features and uneven cell distribution. While multi-Z-plane scan is a prevalent solution, its adoption in clinical digital cytopathology is hindered by prolonged scanning times, increased image file sizes, and the requirement for cytopathologists to review multiple Z-plane images. This study presents heuristic scan as a novel solution, using an artificial intelligence (AI)-based approach specifically designed for cytology slide scanning as an alternative to the multi-Z-plane scan. Both the 21 Z-plane scan and the heuristic scan simulation methods were used on 52 urine cytology slides from three distinct cytopreparations (Cytospin, ThinPrep, and BD CytoRich™ (SurePath)), generating whole-slide images (WSIs) via the Leica Aperio AT2 digital scanner. The AI algorithm inferred the WSI from 21 Z-planes to quantitate the total number of suspicious for high-grade urothelial carcinoma or more severe cells (SHGUC+) cells. The heuristic scan simulation calculated the total numbers of SHGUC+ cells from the 21 Z-plane scan data. Performance metrics including SHGUC+ cell coverage rates (calculated by dividing the number of SHGUC+ cells identified in multiple Z-planes or heuristic scan simulation by the total SHGUC+ cells in the 21 Z-planes for each WSI), scanning time, and file size were analyzed to compare the performance of each scanning method. The heuristic scan's metrics were linearly estimated from the 21 Z-plane scan data. Additionally, AI-aided interpretations of WSIs with scant SHGUC+ cells followed The Paris System guidelines and were compared with original diagnoses. The heuristic scan achieved median SHGUC+ cell coverage rates similar to 5 Z-plane scans across three cytopreparations (0.78-0.91 vs. 0.75-0.88, P=0.451-0.578). Notably, it substantially reduced both scanning time (137.2-635.0 seconds vs. 332.6-1278.8 seconds, P<0.05) and image file size (0.51-2.10 GB vs. 1.16-3.10 GB, P<0.05). Importantly, the heuristic scan yielded higher rates of accurate AI-aided interpretations compared to the single Z-plane scan (62.5% vs. 37.5%). We demonstrated that the heuristic scan offers a cost-effective alternative to the conventional multi-Z-plane scan in digital cytopathology. It achieves comparable SHGUC+ cell capture rates while reducing both scanning time and image file size, promising to aid digital urine cytology interpretations with a higher accuracy rate compared to the conventional single (optimal) plane scan. Further studies are needed to assess the integration of this new technology into compatible digital scanners for practical cytology slide scanning.

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