5G connected ambulance concept brought to life during remote diagnostics demonstration

The UK’s first showcase bringing 5G virtual and augmented reality together with robotic technology in healthcare has taken place in Birmingham. Following the launch earlier this year of BT’s 5G network in the city, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) and BT recently demonstrated scenarios where the technology could provide solutions for the healthcare sector.

The demonstration brought the concept of a 5G connected ambulance, provided by South Central Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust, to life and showed how the latest technology can be combined with clinical expertise to enable remote diagnostics and link field practitioners with surgeons or consultants in ‘real time’.

The technology allows clinicians to remotely assess and diagnose a patient, view medical records, vital signs and ultrasounds. The demonstration depicted a paramedic working from an ambulance in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham, being linked over the 5G network, to a clinician based over two miles away at the Medical Devices Testing and Evaluation Centre (MD-TEC) in UHB’s prestigious simulation lab, located in the Institute of Translational Medicine.

Wearing a specially equipped VR headset, the clinician was able to visualise exactly what the paramedic saw in the ambulance. Using a joystick, they were 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. 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, while seeing the images in real-time. In addition, there is a camera in the ambulance, which transmits a high definition view of the inside of the ambulance, 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, providing a truly immersive experience.

Fotis Karonis, CTIO and 5G Executive Lead for BT Enterprise, said the technology could be transformational for the NHS and other healthcare providers. He 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.

“BT has a long and proud heritage of working with the NHS and we’re committed to developing technological solutions to meet some of the key challenges faced in the healthcare sector.”