South Central Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust has developed a 5G ‘connected ambulance’ to enable remote diagnostics and link field practitioners with surgeons and consultants in real time.
The ambulance has been demonstrated today at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust’s (UHB) simulation lab in a collaboration with BT to show how 5G can be used in healthcare.
This follows the launch earlier this year of BT’s 5G network in Birmingham.
The demonstration depicted a paramedic working from an ambulance in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham, linked over the 5G network to a clinician based over two miles away at UHB’s Medical Devices Testing and Evaluation Centre.
Wearing a specially equipped VR headset, the clinician is able to visualise exactly what the paramedic sees in the ambulance.
Using a joystick, they are then able to remotely direct the paramedic in real time to perform any necessary scans, as well as get close-up footage of the wounds and injuries of a patient. The clinician does this by speaking to the paramedic to look in a particular direction, or, in the case of a scan, sends control signals over the live 5G network to a robotic or ‘haptic’ glove worn by the paramedic.
Directing the hand
The glove creates small vibrations that direct the paramedic’s hand to where the clinician wants the ultrasound sensor to be moved. This allows the clinician to remotely control the sensor position, whilst seeing the images in real time.
In addition, there is a camera in the ambulance which transmits a high definition view of the paramedic and patient. Together with live feeds of the patient’s ultrasound scan, the clinician is able to recognise vital signs and view medical records in real time via the VR headset.
David Rosser, UHB chief executive, said: “The characteristics of 5G mean it should provide many advantages, including speeding up diagnoses for patients and potentially reducing the number of ambulance and A&E department visits.
“In particular, being able to perform diagnoses remotely means a doctor or clinician could determine an appropriate care pathway without necessarily having to see someone in hospital.”
Fotis Karonis, 5G executive lead for BT Enterprise, said: “Not only is 5G capable of ultrafast speeds it has much lower latency meaning there is little to no delay when transmitting data over the network. This means things happen in ‘real time’ so this is of significant interest to the NHS because of its potential for medical applications, such as diagnostics and preventative healthcare.
“This capability provides efficiency opportunities for both hospital and ambulance trusts by reducing the number of referrals into hospital and patient trips.”
Image from BT