Remote diagnosis systems such as the one developed by the DRIVEN project can enhance responsiveness in emergency and disaster incidents, providing a significant time-advantage within that critical hour following an incident.
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Using medical video communication systems for remote diagnosis has the potential to significantly increase a person’s quality of care. This is especially true in remote areas and in developing countries, where access to specialised medical care is simply unavailable. Here, the development of cost-effective, portable video-diagnostic systems can have a catalytic effect for preventive, mass population ultrasound screening, thus reducing, for example, mortality rates attributed to undiagnosed cardiovascular diseases.
“We understood the potential of remote video medical diagnosis, but also saw that doctors haven’t adopted its use into their day-to-day practice. For example, streaming video from an ambulance would allow a doctor to make a diagnosis and prepare the operating theatre before the patient even arrived – which would save critical time,” says researcher Andreas Panayides of the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in the UK. “To bridge this gap, we needed to offer a quality mobile health system that doctors could use to make diagnosis with confidence.”
DRIVEN not only created a mobile health system, but is also working to ensure the use of such systems become part of common clinical practice. It accomplished this by developing a framework for a responsive wireless medical communication system capable of providing remote diagnosis that matched the quality level of in-hospital examinations.
The key challenge the project faced was to secure the diagnostic capacity of the communicated medical video over error-prone wireless channels. Moreover, the system had to be able to adapt to the available, and often limited, bandwidth of different wireless networks without comprising the video’s clinical capacity.
DRIVEN overcame these challenges by developing a diagnostically-driven video coding algorithm. Knowing that not all parts of the organs under examination are as diagnostically significant as others, the algorithm focuses on providing uncompromised quality over the clinically sensitive regions. This allows for a more optimised use of available bandwidth, meaning medical experts back at the hospital receive a more robust ultrasound video of the key areas of the body, allowing them to make an accurate diagnosis with confidence.
“In practice, with our system a trained technician in the field can install and operate a portable ultrasound, transmitting the video back to the doctor in the hospital who can immediately make a diagnosis and create a care plan,” explains Panayides. “Soon we hope to take this one step further by integrating a robot into the field that can be remotely operated by the doctor to provide the necessary ultrasound video.”
With the knowledge gained, the DRIVEN team created an open-source telemedicine platform for real-time, wireless transmission of medical videos. This open-source approach facilitates the use of affordable, remote medical video communications for diagnosis purposes across many different regions – thus removing one of the major socioeconomic barriers to accessing quality healthcare.
In addition to increased responsiveness in an emergency, remote diagnosis also saves time in the immediate – and critical – aftermath of an incident. At the same time, DRIVEN’s range of associated applications such as a provision for obtaining second opinions, home monitoring, and medical education, all contribute to reducing hospitalisation times and healthcare expenditures –ultimately improving the individual’s quality of life.