Can satellite save the NHS?

Can satellite save the NHS?

It is undeniable that the NHS is under pressure due to a lack of resources and budget cuts across the service, especially in the A&E department. After facing a tough winter, constant criticism and poor results it is time for a change in the health service.

Racing to the rescue is a consortium of organisations including ViaSat, the Scottish Ambulance Service and The University of Aberdeen. The three have joined forces to create the next generation of health service delivery, all from an ambulance.

One thing that has undoubtedly been a struggle for the NHS is A&E waiting times, impacting not just patients but putting extra pressures on doctors and nurses too. Through the use of satellite signals, however, A&E could be revolutionised.

The consortium has developed an efficient way to transmit data from the ambulance to A&E departments in a matter of seconds. This will enable quicker procedures at the hospital and improved patient care.

Instead of using radio transmitters to explain the condition of a patient to the A&E department, SatCare uses satellite signals to send almost real-time images, videos or ultrasounds of the patient to the hospital. Reaping major benefits from cost, efficiency and speed, the project aims to transform the way patients receive A&E care.

Marc Agnew, Vice President at Viasat UK, said: “From a technical point of view, one of the advantages of the satellite is it can be everywhere. There is no local infrastructure required to support a satellite signal.

“It can transmit at about 5MB per seconds and receive at an even higher data rate at the equivalent of a high-quality home broadband connection. In comparison, 4G in a rural area would be much, much slower at just below a MB. Therefore, it would be difficult to rely on to send images over those types of networks and that’s where satellite really brings the capability to this project.”

Among other benefits, the strength of the signal satellite affords over rural areas is a vital aspect of the trial. Leila Eadie, Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Rural Health, said: “In the highlands, connectivity is very patchy. We have only just got 4G in Inverness and outside you’ll get 2G and maybe 3G, so satellite will come in handy we hope.”

The time to transmit data, whether it is images, videos or ultrasounds can be done in less than 10 seconds. This capability enables an alert system for those on call at A&E, helping them understand what patients are expected to arrive and what needs to be prepared.

Can satellite save the NHS?

Satellite signals can send images within 10 seconds.

Agnew said: “Satellite has a very high connectivity rate, so when videos and ultrasound recordings are produced they can be sent very quickly. This minimises the time paramedics need to stay on stations before heading back to the hospitals.”

Instead of using radio signals to describe the condition, satellite enables the visual representation. This, in turn, improves the quality of care that is sent and received for both the patient and medic.

Dr. Eadie said: “From a diagnostic point of view we have the ultrasound so this is a very rugged portable kit that has been tested by the military and is very good for this situation for paramedics in the field.

“This, we hope, will be really useful in terms of patient diagnosis. In a lot of cases, we are looking for blood where there shouldn’t be blood, how people are breathing seeing if their lungs have collapsed so ultrasounds are very good at doing this sort of things and it is used in emergency departments.”

Furthermore, the capability of sending visual data allows medics at the hospital to transmit feedback for if they need to see further images or if more actions need to be taken, rather than starting diagnosis when patients arrive.

“One of the main benefits is that we can send alerts over the distance we may be travelling, pre-alerting A&E departments at hospitals about a patient’s condition that is expected to arrive,” said Robert William Farquhar, the Area Services Manager at the Scottish Ambulance service.

“With the accurate information and pre alerting system, it helps make theatres and doctors available so that patients can go straight to theatre or consultation as soon as they arrive. Pre-alerting hospitals is beneficial because doctors at the hospital are already looking at the patients through the quality of the pictures and ultrasounds before we have even left the scene.”

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In healthcare, the patient is of the utmost importance, which is another driver of the capability. As well as the impressive connectivity satellite signals hold, it has the ability to send information at the speed of light and in turn, make a difference to someone’s life.

“From a patient perspective, the trial will get them to the right place at the right time. They will hopefully see that the way they are dealt with is much quicker and the information that the consultants have at the hospital will be much more relevant to their needs,” Farquhar said. “In time, I hope that patients will get to go to the theatre much sooner.”

Of course, benefits are found from a medic’s perspective as well. A large benefit of the initiative is it’s time-saving ability. Sending the ultrasound data back to A&E for doctors there to analyse saves a lot of time to interpret, instead of paramedics on scene taking the time.

Agnew said: “The beauty of the strategy is that a paramedic doesn’t need to know anything about satellite, they just need to push a button to wake up the system, wait for it to find the satellite and then it is activated.”

To date, a total of five new ambulances have been designed and deployed for the trial transmitting the satellite signal to better care. Depending on the results of the trial, the group aims to roll out many more of its kind in an attempt to finally solve the NHS crisis that is on the UK’s hands.