Despite the benefits of eHealth, it is rarely used in emergency situations – it lacks the technology medics need to make accurate and real-time remote diagnoses. The CONCERTO team is hoping to change this by developing telemedicine technology allowing medics to make life-saving decisions quickly.

Over the last century, scientific breakthroughs like X-rays, antibiotics and advanced surgical techniques have helped to more than double the average life expectancy of people living in developed countries.

Today, eHealth is considered the next big advance, while remote care is crucial to further improving patient outcomes. But in emergency situations, access to high-quality 3D images and video remains problematic for medics. Changing this would clear the way for efficient and correct diagnosis in real time.

CONCERTO aims to improve telemedicine networking technology by providing high-quality compressed imaging and video. A commercialised system, which could be available within five years, has the potential to help save many lives.

“Currently, eHealth is poorly applied in real-time emergency situations,” says CONCERTO project coordinator Lorenzo Iacobelli of Thales Communications & Security in France. “Our project will support new scenarios where the patient can be fully analysed in an ambulance and his full results sent in real time to the specialist at the hospital for diagnosis. This saves precious time and can save lives.”

The CONCERTO architecture will use an advanced cross-layer signalling system to support the efficient transmission of medical images and video streams from multiple, uncorrelated and rapidly moving sources. The team is also testing advanced algorithms and codecs that improve the compression and protection of medical images and videos.

Anytime, anywhere

The smart use of context awareness – a system that can sense its physical environment and adapt its behaviour accordingly – is also under development within CONCERTO.

This would mean that, in any given situation, media files can be adapted and the data reshaped, enabling images and video to reach their final destination wirelessly, even if bandwidth is lacking and the location is remote. The project is also designing adaptive solutions considering not only network capabilities but also the content of a delivery, such as patient-specific data.

Although the project is not yet finished, the team already has some exciting findings. For example, the system for compressing and transmitting heavy and detailed medical images, which many medics initially dismissed as impossible, is now deemed viable and effective. A multi-view video system enabling the efficient encoding of sequences captured simultaneously from multiple cameras using a single video stream is also complete.

Iacobelli is convinced of CONCERTO’s added value, saying that it will prove invaluable in emergency situations – patients’ chances of survival will increase as the waiting time for diagnosis decreases.

Saving time, saving money, saving lives

The CONCERTO technology also supports first responders like nurses and paramedics who will be able to send multiple data forms quickly and efficiently to specialists through wireless devices.

The technology would also reduce the need for travel and referral to a secondary or tertiary health institution – this cuts costs for both patients and the healthcare provider.

As specialists will already have made a diagnosis before the patient arrives at the hospital, waiting times will also be reduced dramatically.

And by making health data like images and video accessible on the desktop, the CONCERTO system would also lead to faster healthcare decisions.

According to Iacobelli, CONCERTO would also prove useful for medics on the move. “When a doctor has to see several patients in, say, a nursery home, he will be able to examine the patient in advance via images and video, ask preliminary questions and even take action before a face-to-face consultation. This makes for a far more efficient and effective way of treating patients,” he says.

Before CONCERTO finishes at the end of 2014, the team plans to hold a full demonstration at a Perugia hospital in Italy, where physicians will assess the system’s overall effectiveness and added value. Beyond this, Iacobelli explains that a finished eHealth product could be on the market within five years.

“This all depends on variations in national healthcare systems, legal procedures and the evolution of technology,” he stresses. “However, some of the individual technological breakthroughs, such as the image compression system, could be available within a couple of years.”

The CONCERTO findings are expected to lead to innovative solutions in other industries that use networking and video coding. In fact, the project team has already submitted several contributions to standardisation bodies such as the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).

CONCERTO builds on a previous Seventh Framework Programme project, OPTIMIX, which studied innovative solutions to enhance video streaming.

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