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5G testbed demonstrates the ambulance of the future, today

The West Midlands 5G testbed joined with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and BT to demonstrate a remote-controlled ultrasound scan over a public 5G network.

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The demonstration showed how 5G can transform healthcare and the emergency services
The demonstration showed how 5G can transform healthcare and the emergency services

WM5G, the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed designed to accelerate 5G deployment, is working with University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) and BT to showcase how 5G can transform healthcare and the emergency services.

 

The organisations recently combined to undertake the UK’s first demonstration of a remote-controlled ultrasound scan over a public 5G network.

 

First UK 5G testbed

 

The demonstration follows a decision by Government to select the West Midlands as the UK’s first multi-city 5G testbed. WM5G was set up by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to deliver the strategy and further the aims of the WM5G Programme.

 

The demonstration was 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 frontline 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.

 

“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,” said Tim Jones, chief innovation officer at UHB. “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 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.

“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”

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.

 

Freeing up resources


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.

“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,” said Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA.


“5G will be the backbone of our future economy and society, with local people here in the West Midlands reaping the benefits first.”


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