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Remote surgery, robotics and more – how 5G is helping transform healthcare

28 Nov 2019

Sabrina Baggioni

5G Program Director, Vodafone Italy

From remote surgery to rehabilitation robotics and wearable sensors, 5G will be a real driver of innovation in healthcare, helping improve staff efficiency while improving patient care.

For example, in Milan, the 5G connected ambulance is allowing paramedics to be continuously connected to the emergency management centre and with hospital doctors, providing a way to share patient details and symptoms before they even reach the hospital.

Image: Connected Ambulance in Milan

As the “5G capital of Europe”, Milan has been at the forefront of innovation in this area and recently acted as the backdrop for our 5G Healthcare Vodafone Conference & Experience Day – an event dedicated to the future of Health and Wellness.

Attended by the industry’s leading figures, we discussed the key role that new technologies are playing and shared some of our recent breakthroughs.

Live remote-operated surgery

During the event, a remote surgery operation was carried out for the first time in Italy on our live 5G network in collaboration with the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the IRCSS Hospital San Raffaele.

Image: Vodafone 5G Healthcare Surgery in Milan

The surgery was performed from the theatre stage of the Vodafone Village, where Professor Matteo Trimarchi carried out a procedure used to treat diseases affecting the vocal cords on a synthetic larynx model at the San Raffaele hospital, at the opposite side of the city.

Thanks to the extremely low-latency and high degree of reliability provided by 5G, the surgeon was able to operate the laser and the robot’s micro-manipulator grippers remotely in real time, whilst being able to watch what was happening via a stereoscopic video of the area being operated on.

This unique event gives a taste of what healthcare in the future will look like, making medical and surgical expertise available on an ever-greater scale and eliminating geographical barriers.

And it’s not only surgical procedures that benefit from the improvements that 5G brings.

Data on the go

Using 5G, specialist technicians and doctors are able to work together from different locations during and after radiological examinations.

Sharing high-resolution video and images, they can examine patients whilst on the move and in real time.

Furthermore, using 5G, doctors are able to view the console screen of the radiological machine remotely, as well as CT or MRI scanners, to observe and support the examinations.

This gives medics the ability to view radiological data while on the move, and makes diagnoses quicker, more accurate and less expensive.

Healthcare to homecare

Beyond the hospital, remote monitoring of patients can help alleviate pressure on healthcare professionals, by preventing needless hospital stays and having medical staff’s time redirected to those who need them most.

Using the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G, vulnerable patients, such as those with heart disease, can have their data gathered using continuously active wearable sensors wherever they are.

This data is then sent to a system that uses artificial intelligence to monitor the state of the patient’s health in real time as they go about their daily activities. Any abnormalities can trigger a notification for a healthcare professional to intervene immediately.

In this regard, technology is working together with the doctors, not just for them.

Similarly, with treatments such as rehabilitation, doctors can use technology to connect with their patients.

Through 4k video calling and interactive robotics, doctors can remotely follow a rehabilitation session, remotely control the setting of the exercises and the execution of every single movement of the patient sharing feedback in real time.

A helping hand

If a patient still needs hospital care, service robotics such as the humanoid robot R1, can assist patient and carer.

Using 5G and IBM’s artificial intelligence, R1 will be able to interact in a personalised way in multiple areas, using information to orientate itself within medical facilities and to offer various forms of entertainment to patients, including books and newspapers.

It will even be able to provide assistance in drawing up menus and collecting patients’ food preferences!

Milan’s Open Lab

When paired with other technologies, such as IoT and AI, 5G’s possibilities become endless.

5G’s quick transmission of data and ultra-reliable connectivity means it can enhance many existing processes, while also leading to the creation of new ones not yet realised. And this goes beyond healthcare.

Take logistics, for instance. 5G will make it possible for a worker operating a remote crane to do so with real time reactions and without interruption.

As this new-generation network becomes more widely adopted and understood, new use cases will lead to a profound impact on the world around us.

We’ve opened a 5G Open Lab in Milan to offer enterprises, developers and start-ups an open space for co-creation on 5G solutions and services.

We’re excited for the future and for the new partnerships and ideas that will emerge from organisations experimenting with this game-changing new technology. 

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