In UK pilot, paramedics send ultrasounds, high-res videos en route to hospitals

By Laura Lovett
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In rural Scotland ambulance rides can take as long as four or five hours. Those hours spent in the ambulance are critical, said Neil Fraser, director of space and communications at ViaSat UK. But new a new pilot program aims to use telemedicine to improve care during that important time frame. 

Global broadband service and technology company ViaSat, announced that it will be partnering with The University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Rural Health, NHS Highland, and the Scottish Ambulance Service to pilot a program called SatCare which allows paramedics to send high-resolution videos and ultrasound images from ambulance to hospital based medical experts before the patient arrives. 

The pilot will include five ambulances in Inverness shire, a British county located in the Scottish Highlands. 

The goal is to have doctors and specialists see patients' scans before patients get to the hospital, so doctors can give advice to the paramedics.

In the UK and Europe different hospitals have particular specializations. Sometimes patients end up at the wrong hospital after a long ambulance ride, said Fraser. This could help paramedics talk to doctors and figure out the best hospital to take that patient to.

By allowing the paramedics to scan images and have more than just a telephone conversation with a doctor back in hospital, the doctor can have a clearer idea of what is happening. For example, the doctor may be able to identify if someone has a condition like a collapsed lung and the parametic can act, said Faser. 

"That will absolutely save lives,” said Fraser. “The second [benefit] is getting those broadband images to the doctor so they can say this person needs to go to this hospital to see this specialist.”

This pilot is the first time SatCare is going to be used in a live environment. There is also parallel program in Belgium with three ambulances. The Belgium program is targeted at helping stroke patients and is a more urban setting. 

Scans take less than five minutes to record and package with a video summary of the patient’s condition which can be sent to the emery department of Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, Scotland over the ViaSat’s satellite system, according to a statement. 

The Scottish pilot will last one year and is partly funded by the European Space Agency. But Fraser said that this type of technology could be used in other situations in the future include disaster zones, for national crisis teams and in the military market. ViaSat has locations in the UK, Europe, and America. 

 "This trial is a landmark in rural emergency care research. It will establish the best way to use very sophisticated technology to support paramedics in caring for sick patients on the long journey to a hospital and to alert A&E staff to what kind of treatments may be needed when the patient arrives,” said Philip Wilson, director of the Centre for Rural Health, in a statement. “This research will tell us how effective and, equally important, how cost-effective this technology can be.”