NEC and DoCoMo test 5G for remote medical exams

remote healthcare
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NEC says it has been participating with NTT DoCoMo in field trials of remote medical examinations in Wakayama prefecture using 5G.

NEC provided a base station system as part of comprehensive 5G demonstration experiments carried out by DoCoMo, the Wakayama Prefectural Government, and Wakayama Medical University and hosted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Background: Wakayama prefecture is a mountainous, sparsely populated region in Japan, with limited access to advanced medical institutions. Local medical offices are often understaffed and doctors are frequently required to see patients who are outside of their expertise.

Consequently, the Wakayama prefectural government established a remote medical support system (basically a video conference system that uses a regular Internet connection) that connects 13 prefectural medical institutions and Wakayama Medical University, allowing doctors to receive advice from specialists, even in towns in mountainous areas. However, the system frequently experiences problems, including unclear images and transmission delays.

In order to address these issues, DoCoMo, NEC and Wakayama Medical University have established an experimental remote medical examination service that utilizes 5G to connect the university to Hidakagawa Kokuho Kawakami Clinic, which is about 30 km away. For the trial, NEC set up a massive-element active antenna system (AAS) base station system using the 28-GHz band.

The experiment enabled real-time communication and sharing of images taken by a 4K close-up camera, high-definition echocardiographic (echo) video and MRI images using a 4K video conference system between Wakayama Medical University and Kokuho Kawakami Clinic – all of which ran over the 5G network.

NEC 5G remote medical exams
Graphic credit: NEC

Benefits of the experiment included the use of large-screen HD monitors, making it possible to view the condition of a subject in minute detail. Further, because of the realistic feeling of the reactions and expressions during a doctor’s interview, it became possible to communicate with patients more personally, supporting the progress of the medical examinations and reducing the burden on medical staff and patients, said Naoki Hirabayashi, M.D., director of Hidakagawa Kokuho Kawakami Clinic.

“In the field trials, it was as if the medical specialist at the prefectural medical university was right there next to me as we watched the same video of the patient’s affected area,” he said. “Getting the opinion of a medical specialist provides patients with the advantage of a highly reliable examination, while the doctors are provided with the opportunity to acquire specialized knowledge.”

“Ultra-high-speed 5G communications are often associated with the entertainment industry. However, these trials showed us that 5G can play a role in solving social issues, such as reducing regional disparities in the delivery of health care,” said Jun Mashino, senior research engineer of the 5G Radio Access Network Research Group of NTT DoCoMo’s 5G Laboratory. “We plan to create new business models and value by continuing to take advantage of 5G technologies in collaboration with ICT vendors, and a wide variety of companies and organizations in the near future.”

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