Could remote connected procedures be the key to increasing clinical capacity and patient access?

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Written by Adrian Smith, Health and Social Care Lead at West Midlands 5G

The pressure on health care services has increased over recent months as professionals are trying to catch up on missed or delayed investigations and procedures. In many cases, technologies and new ways of working can improve efficiency, time, and resources, while also ensuring improved patient experience and outcomes, enhancing access to experts and treatment options.

 

Bringing services to patients

It is becoming increasingly evident that the most successful solutions are going to be those that are simple and fit seamlessly into practice. 

We need effective, clear, and intuitive technologies that are ready to be applied en-masse with little or no training. Ultimately, patients need to get the right support without feeling abandoned or missing out on the care offered in clinic.

I truly believe connectivity is the key underpinning requirement for delivering this transformational change the healthcare sector needs. Connectivity enables us to unlock the true power of digital solutions across care pathways by providing ubiquitous, robust access to healthcare provision at the point of need. Rather than just being available at the hospital or clinic, these can be delivered in the community or at the patient’s home.

5G technology offers ultra-fast speeds, greater security, and lower latency (the speed from action to reaction) compared to its predecessors.

These improvements to connectivity have enabled healthcare providers to feel confident that the privacy of patient data is fully maintained while operating remotely. Likewise, 5G mitigates the very serious and potentially life-threatening risk of spotty reception or disconnection which with previous generation networks was a barrier to making digital procedures more widespread. 

 

Improving patient outcomes

Around 2 million patients annually have stomach or digestive complaints investigated through an endoscopy – a procedure whereby a camera is fed into the bowel or stomach to detect signs of issues such as bowel cancer, which is responsible for nearly 20,000 deaths each year.  In April of this year, endoscopy services were beginning to tackle the backlog of 187,000 patients whose procedures had been delayed due to Covid. Prior to Covid, there were already issues around waiting times due to limited capacity within clinical settings. 

For instance, through the application of 5G technology, it is now feasible for patients to swallow a pill-sized capsule camera and undertake the endoscopy process in the comfort of their own homes. 

Capsule cameras may sound familiar as similar devices have been around for some time, although self-administration at home of such devices is yet to be adopted at scale in the UK.

Following an initial virtual consultation to confirm the patient ‘s suitability for the procedure, a so called IntelliGI box is delivered to the patient’s home. This contains all the prep chemicals, camera, recording belt and a 5G-enabled device which will connect the patient remotely with the clinician, who will guide them through the prep and swallowing of the camera. 

During the procedure over 500,000 images are collected and sent via 5G directly to a hospital or specialist analysis centre where clinicians can determine any next steps. In future, AI can be paired with the remote endoscopy solution to help speed up the image analysis process relieving the demand on clinicians and supporting staff.

This means even faster identification of polyps, the precursors to cancer and other gastrointestinal issues, all while enabling more patients to get tested sooner, lessening the impact and cost of treating cancer and other gastro-intestinal diseases, and improving patient outcomes. 

As we strive to build the evidence base, we believe that a large proportion of endoscopies could potentially be undertaken remotely each year, easing the burden on the NHS and reducing stress and uncertainty for patients and help save lives. 

 

Better care for everyone

Technology in healthcare brings safety and freedom. Patients can better manage conditions while clinicians are able to improve patient safety through more efficient provision of care, analysis of data through access to additional expert opinion. 

The 5G connected endoscopy trial will contribute valuable insights to help establish other out-of-hospital procedures enabling more patients to receive high quality care without the need to attend a clinical setting. 

In a world beyond Covid, the NHS needs to embrace the way digital technologies can improve patient safety and 5G will be a key factor in making this happen


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