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5G-Connected Ambulances Revolutionize Emergency Care

5G-Connected Ambulances Revolutionize Emergency Care
The 5G connected ambulance. (Credit: Ericsson)

Technology is revolutionizing emergency care by enabling medical staff to treat patients in ambulances before they reach the hospital. Smart ambulance crews can now share a patient’s vitals and symptoms in real time with the hospital thanks to the use of 5G and advanced augmented/virtual reality support. 

High-resolution video calling between the ambulance and hospital gives doctors a better understanding of the kind of emergency involved. They can monitor the patient’s condition remotely, diagnose symptoms and prescribe urgent treatment that paramedics can carry out on the way to the hospital.

Last year healthcare workers in the UK performed the first remote diagnostic procedure in an ambulance thanks to the 5G network. The connected vehicle provides an innovative new way to connect patients, ambulance workers and remote medical experts in real time. 

The project, which was piloted in the city of Birmingham, was a collaboration between the telecommunications company Ericsson, University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) and King’s College London.

Technology enables medical staff to treat patients in ambulances before they reach the hospital. (Credit: Ericsson)
Technology enables medical staff to treat patients in ambulances before they reach the hospital. (Credit: Ericsson)

In this case, the clinician was able to perform the procedure remotely through an immersive combination of 5G-enabled technology. A camera based in the ambulance transmits high-definition footage to the remote clinician with close to zero latency. Using a virtual reality headset and a joystick, the clinician can then remotely guide the paramedic through a series of procedures based on haptic glove technology.

Vodafone AR hololens in use. (Credit: Milano Today)
Vodafone AR Hololens in use. (Credit: Milano Today)

This allows the clinician to recognize vital signs, access medical records remotely and ultimately respond much faster. It showcases how 5G technology can enable clinicians and paramedics to collaborate haptically, even when they are miles apart. Juljana Hysenbelli, 5G Sector Lead for Health and Wellness at Vodafone Italy, said:

“The low latency of 5G helps us to use these functionalities.

The high quality means that neurologists in the hospital, for example, can ask a patient who has had a stroke to move their arm. If there’s a lag on the video call, the neurologist can’t really understand if it’s the technology or if the patient has been impacted by the stroke.

5G makes a big difference, and that is why these solutions are now feasible.”

Onboard Connectivity Ecosystem

Meanwhile, systems such as the HoloLens glasses developed by Microsoft use augmented reality to visualize a patient’s medical history, pick up information and bespoke treatment plans for emergency care.

A smart ambulance system developed by the Cardiff-based company Excelerate proved invaluable during the peak of the Covid-19 crisis when hospitals were overwhelmed with patients. The vehicles were developed using a  combination of digital enhancements and connectivity services. This includes an onboard multi-wan router, a portable WiFi Hotspot, a 4G optimization antenna and next-generation satellite technology and services. 

Excelerate's smart ambulances. (Credit: Excelerate)
Excelerate’s smart ambulances. (Credit: Excelerate)

This provides medical professionals with a robust and reliable internet connection regardless of geographical constraints, which in turn helps seamless real-time data transfer between the devices onboard as well as clinical leads at the hospital. 

Together, these products create an onboard connectivity ecosystem, optimizing cellular, satellite and wireless network capabilities.

Particularly Effective With Stroke Patients

Following the success of a separate trial with the NHS East of England ambulances across the UK are now fitted with smart technology, developed by the company Visionable, that allows people to be treated by consultants via video link before they reach the hospital.

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The technology was found to be particularly effective with stroke patients as irreparable damage to the brain worsens each minute that a bleed is left untreated. Alan Lowe, co-founder and chief executive of the video platform, said: 

“Every 15 minutes a stroke is untreated takes three years off someone’s life. Imagine the difference it would make if you could start treatment in the ambulance.”

Ambulance services in the UK, the US and across Europe are struggling to cope with the increased patient demand amid workforce crisis. Technology could be the key to maintaining optimum levels of care and ensuring patient safety.