Highland ambulances test satcoms for remote scans

Pilot project involves use of satellite broadband system to send video and ultrasound images from ambulance to hospital

A group of Scottish public authorities have begun a one-year pilot, partly funded by the European Space Agency, to connect high resolution video and ultrasound images from ambulances to hospitals.

Scottish ambulanceNHS Highland and the Scottish Ambulance Service are running the SatCare pilot with the University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Rural Health and the broadband services and technology company ViaSat.

It involves the use of the company’s advanced satellite communications system, which operates on its jointly owned KA-SAT high throughput satellite network.

Five ambulances have been equipped with scanning equipment and ViaSat’s satellite broadband communications systems, with the aim of providing better care for patients on long journeys.

VaiSat said that a paramedic is able to record and package the scans with a video summary of the patient’s condition in less than five minutes then transmit it in seconds over the network. The scans are being sent to the emergency department of the Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, where clinicians can assess the patient’s needs, give advice to the paramedic and tell specialist teams to get ready for the patient’s arrival.

A spokesperson said this is the first time the technology has been tested in a healthcare setting in the UK.

Numbers and rigour

An emergency consultant at the hospital, Dr Luke Regan, said the pilot is aimed at providing the numbers, methodological rigour and sufficiently large base of rural patients to help provide some firm conclusions about the potential for ultrasound, telemedicine and remote decision support.

Dr Leila Eadie, research fellow at the Centre of Rural Health, commented: “We are taking diagnostic tools used in the emergency department into rural ambulances, making them available at the site of an emergency.

“Previous studies have shown the biggest barrier to practical use of pre-hospital ultrasound is interpretation of the scans: images can be acquired with basic training and SatCare communications technology will facilitate expert assessment of images in the field. We want to maximise the benefits of having ultrasound available without requiring paramedics to undertake extensive sonography training.”

Image by Bankiesbhoy, CC0 through Flickr