Transforming healthcare with 5G
Food, fashion and art – that’s what pops into most people’s minds when they think of Italy. But the country is so much more than a cultural and gastronomical powerhouse. It's also a springboard for medical advances. Today, Tuscany is a hotbed for innovation in healthcare, with many universities and organizations performing research in the biomedical, biotechnology and pharmaceutical fields. Two companies in particular, Imaginalis and El.En, are leading cutting-edge research in this area.
Imaginalis, an Epica International Group company, researches, develops and produces robotic imaging medical devices for human and veterinarian applications. They’ve created a number of diagnostic imaging tools that accurately visualize internal and external structures in 2D and 3D. Currently they are focusing on developing new 3D CAT scan and robot-assisted surgery technology, with the aim of making procedures safer, easier to perform and less expensive.
El.En is also looking to improve treatment options with their state of the art laser equipment which will benefit a wide range of areas, from dermatology and dentistry to sports medicine and surgery. Their research also has wider industrial applications, such as for use in the cutting, marking, and welding of materials, as well as for decorating leather and fabrics and restoring artwork.
Looking to advance their research and push the boundaries of biomedical and robotic technologies, the two companies have teamed up with Ericsson. The aim of the collaboration is to use Ericsson’s expertise and technologies to make surgery that is more precise, less expensive and reduces side effects for patients.
One of the first activities planned is to aid Imaginalis in advancing remote diagnosis by improving mobile uplink connectivity and data compression to transfer images and perform remote analysis. Damiano Fortuna, CEO and President of Imaginalis, explains: “With 5G wireless connection, the entire workflow could become very easy and intuitive. That could make it possible to perform a pre-planned surgery by an expert surgeon in Cambridge or Boston, when the system (and patient) is located in another part of the world.”
Improved connectivity will also benefit El.En’s research efforts to develop lasers that allow physicians to treat patients with minimally invasive surgery. “We can reduce the invasiveness of the diagnosis by having more sophisticated software, devices and control of the system. For that to work, we need to have a very efficient way of exchanging information,” says Professor Leonardo Masotti, President of the Scientific Committee of the El.En group.
Teaching robots bedside manners
Another way to enhance patient care and health informatics with greater connectivity is through live-in robots that facilitate telemedicine to provide constant critical care to patients. Filippo Cavallo, Assistant Professor at the BioRobotics Institute near Pisa is working to make this a reality: “5G can enable us to implement complex healthcare services and improve the capability of robots to learn to recognize new objects and perform complex tasks. We can have robots to support in assisting elderly people, for example.”
When the robot is connected, a doctor can give instructions for it to visit the patient’s bedside. Using the robot’s two-way audio-visual teleconferencing feature, the doctor and patient can interact and share medical information easily and naturally.
By joining Ericsson’s expertise with leading research in surgical and treatment techniques, robots can have a major impact on society and help us to live better, healthier lives.
Advancing remote diagnosis and robotic assisted surgery
Communications technology and medical expertise have been a powerful combination for enhancing patient care for many years. Remote diagnosis and robotic assisted surgery are commonly used around the world, and the rapid pace with which ICT is evolving means that even greater possibilities for these techniques are becoming a reality.
Remote diagnosis allows a doctor to analyze symptoms from a distance. This is particularly advantageous for rural areas without medical resources nearby and also for patients who are unable to travel to see a doctor, for example. Currently, however, the images rendered from 3D CAT scans, such as those produced by Imaginalis, are several gigabits, and today’s uplink channels are not sufficient for live remote diagnosis. Bringing together specific codec techniques tailored for CAT scan images, and the power and speed of 5G networks, will make complex remote diagnosis possible in the future.
Robotic assisted laser surgery, an application for both Imaginalis – Epica and El.En’s research, is another area that can benefit from such developments. With the aid of a machine, doctors can now perform complex procedures with greater precision and flexibility and minimize the invasiveness of the operation. The next step is to increase the role of the machine to perform the complicated preparations, such as alignment and placement of a prosthesis, before the surgeon operates. This significantly shortens the time the patient is in surgery and helps to improve the accuracy of the operation. However, this is only possible through advances in software and seamless transmission of information.
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