Thousands of patients in critical condition could have their lives saved or avoid future complications as a result of the latest technology in the world allowing for specialist diagnosis and treatment from remote location. An NHS demonstration has shown how a combination of superfast 5G broadband and other advanced technology will allow for treatment while patients are still in an ambulance. Early diagnosis and treatment of situations involving major trauma or symptoms of heart attacks and strokes could significantly boost survival rates.
The demonstration involved paramedics used a haptic glove to provide an ultrasound scan of a patient inside an ambulance. That footage is streamed over 5G networks to doctors located several kilometres away in a hospital who were able to communicate with the paramedic in real time and even guide their hand with a joystick to get the images required to make a diagnosis.
The demonstration took place in Birmingham, making use of the fact EE has already launched its 5G network in parts of the city. 4G broadband is not fast enough to enable the transmission of high-quality ultrasound images in a way that allows for synchronised viewing at distance.
Dr Tom Clutton-Brock, the doctor who participated in the demonstration as the remote specialist explained the value that the new technology will bring:
“This allows us to do what we have not done before. It will improve the efficiency of healthcare by putting the right patients in the right places. It will also improve survival rates and patient outcomes because there’ll be a large reduction in delays getting people to theatre as diagnoses will be done on the way.”
“For example, the symptoms of a baby that is poorly, breathless and blue can be diagnosed so clinicians know whether it has a hole in its heart and needs surgery, or if it’s just sepsis and it can go to a children’s hospital. It happens all the time that a baby arrives one place and has to be conveyed elsewhere.”
Cameron McVittie, the paramedic involved in the demonstration was equally optimistic about the difference the new technology could make:
“As a paramedic I want something that is effective and simple to use and reliable, which is what the demonstration showed. This improves communication and gets patients a better outcome. It is all about time — time saves lives.”
The technology could also help save the NHS significant resources, especially in remoter areas of the country where air ambulances often have to be dispatched. Usual practise is to err on the side of caution and send an air ambulance if there is any doubt. But accurate remote diagnosis should mean cases where incurring that significant expense is not necessary can be avoided.
The technology is set to be adopted by University Hospitals Birmingham within 12 to 18 months with further testing to be carried out in the interim. Other hospitals around the country would then be expected to follow suite.