The UK’s first remote-controlled ultrasound scan over a public 5G network was showcased on 21 June.

The demonstration, held at the University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) NHS Foundation Trust’s simulation lab, was conducted to demonstrate how 5G can advance healthcare and emergency services.

Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, was in attendance to watch the technology in action, which will enable paramedics to carry out the treatment in the ambulance and to get patients into surgery faster on arrival.

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 trial new applications and service at scale.

Mr Street, who is also the chairman 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.”

How does the remote-controlled ultrasound scan work?

The demonstration simulated a paramedic in the field performing an ultrasound scan on a patient, under the remote guidance of a clinician who is able to interpret it in real-time.

The technology requires the person operating the ultrasound to wear a haptic glove that is controlled remotely from the hospital by a specialist.

Either the little finger or the thumb of the glove vibrates to indicate when the paramedic should move the glove across either to the right or left, allowing the clinician to remotely control the sensor position.

remote ultrasound
The 5G Connected Ambulance was showcased to show how patients can be diagnosed and triaged in the most appropriate settings (Credit: Flickr)

In addition, a camera in the ambulance is used to transmit high-definition video of the inside of the ambulance, covering the patient and paramedic, to a second screen 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 monitor the overall scene inside the ambulance.

It’s hoped that it will boost survival rates by allowing accurate early diagnosis in emergencies involving major trauma, chest pains and suspected strokes.

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.”

As well as speeding up diagnoses for patients, it has the potential to reduce the number of ambulance journeys and emergency department visits.

Faster diagnoses can also assist in triaging patients, ensuring more effective outcomes and increasing overall efficiency for the hospital.

“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.”