University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), BT and WM5G are today showcasing how 5G can transform healthcare and the emergency services – with the UK’s first demonstration of a remote-controlled ultrasound scan over a public 5G network.
The demonstration is being hosted by the Medical Devices Testing and Evaluation Centre (MD-TEC) in UHB’s prestigious simulation lab located in the Institute of Translational Medicine. The showcase brings the concept of a 5G Connected Ambulance to life and provides new technologies to front-line staff to create a facility for patients to be diagnosed and triaged in the most appropriate settings. It enables remote diagnostics performed by paramedics who are supported by clinicians based in the hospital.
This is a real-world example of how 5G will support digital transformation in the delivery of public services. It is one example of how activities which can only be performed in static environments today can become mobile tomorrow and which will enable care delivery to be streamlined.
The demonstration simulates a paramedic in the field performing an ultrasound scan on a patient, under the remote guidance of a clinician who is able to interpret the ultrasound image in real-time. The ultrasound sensor is manipulated locally by the paramedic under the remote direction of the clinician.
This is done using a joystick operated remotely by the clinician which sends control signals over the live 5G network to a robotic or ‘haptic’ glove worn by the paramedic. 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 ultrasound images in real-time. In addition, there is a camera in the ambulance which transmits in high definition a view of the inside of the ambulance covering the patient and paramedic to a second screen located on the clinician’s workstation.
The images are relayed over a high-bandwidth 5G connection, so the clinician is able to view both the ultrasound examination performed by the paramedic and keep an eye on the overall scene inside the ambulance. The superfast speeds of 5G ensure sharper and more reliable imagery for the clinician than could previously be achieved.
Enabling ultrasound scans to be performed by paramedics in the field and reviewed remotely by an expert clinician should bring a number of advantages to patients and to the NHS. As well as speeding up diagnoses for patients, it has the potential to reduce the number of ambulance journeys and emergency department visits.
This will improve the overall experience for patients while freeing up ambulance resources and reducing pressure on emergency departments. Faster diagnoses can also assist in triaging patients, ensuring more effective outcomes for the patient, and increasing overall efficiency for the hospital.
Tim Jones, Chief Innovation Officer at UHB, said: “We are immensely excited about the potential of 5G to support transformation in healthcare. As a Global Digital Exemplar, we are always looking into new technologies and how we can use them to improve patient care. 5G will help us to roll out this next generation of healthcare technologies.
Our clinicians will in the future be able to deliver holistic specialist advice in real time, potentially forming virtual multi-disciplinary teams to provide the best patient care using intelligent IT links. Information would be accessible at the point of need, ensuring informed decision making leading to improved patient safety, quality of care and patient/clinician experience.”
The demonstration follows a decision by Government to select the West Midlands as the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed.
As part of the multi-million pound project, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has set up WM5G to develop a large scale 5G pilot across the region to trail new 5G applications and service at scale.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said: “As the nation’s 5G testbed, the West Midlands is leading the way in showing what this exciting technology can do and how it can be rolled out to the rest of the UK.
“We have seen today how 5G has the potential to save patients’ lives, but its new power and technology can also help grow our cutting edge industries that will create the jobs of tomorrow.
“5G will be the backbone of our future economy and society, with local people here in the West Midlands reaping the benefits first.”
Gerry McQuade, CEO of BT’s Enterprise unit, said: “We’re really excited to be working with WM5G and University Hospitals Birmingham on the first 5G healthcare trial to take place in the UK over a live public network.
BT has a long and proud heritage of working with the NHS to better connect patients and healthcare professionals and the characteristics of 5G will deliver a huge-step change in speed, capacity and reliability. We are focused on delivering new, innovative services which will make lives better and firmly believe in using the power of 5G to bring potentially life-saving benefits to patients. There’s no better place to start realising this vision than in Birmingham, part of the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed.”
West Midlands Ambulance Service Strategic Operations Director, Craig Cooke, said: “The 5G network will allow us to further enhance clinical care in the mobile environment, building on the electronic patient record system (EPR) we have already implemented. In simple terms, 5G has the potential to help us provide better care, at the patient’s side, and provide increasingly diverse treatment plans for patients.
“For example, it could allow us to explore live clinical face-to-face consultation with patients at the scene, before the ambulance has arrived. Equally, crews could access specialist assessments and consultations while with the patient through video conferencing or even using new technologies under the remote guidance of consultants or other clinical specialists removing the need for patients to go to hospital.
“As an NHS Global Digital Exemplar, WMAS is already looking at how to extend the use of EPR and explore ways to improve interoperability with our partners such as UHB. One potential development could be the increase of data handover with acute providers to support better patient care. Early access to WMAS information from our vehicles can support the care the patients receive on arrival at hospital and the patient’s journey through departments. We already see this in cases such as heart attacks where hospital staff can view the patient’s ECG, but this could become a live data stream.
“We look forward to working with partners to harness the full capability of the 5G network for the benefit of patients and staff alike.”
Ultrasonography is the second most common diagnostic test reported by the NHS, with more than 9.5 million carried out last year in England alone. On average, 408,000 patients attend University Hospitals Birmingham Emergency Departments each year, with 113,500 of these patients using an ambulance.
With BT’s EE mobile arm recently switching parts of Birmingham on to the UK’s first 5G services, the company is working with WM5G to illustrate how the technology can deliver significant benefits to the NHS and the wellbeing of citizens across the West Midlands region.