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NHS advances digital trials with high-tech mobile health clinic

The NHS’ Find and Treat van uses tech tools including artificial intelligence software and a tele radiology network to care for vulnerable, high-risk Londoners

NHS Digital (NHSD) has deployed a high-tech mobile health clinic to improve screening, testing and treatment of people in vulnerable, homeless and high-risk situations in London.

The Find and Treat van was implemented from University College London Hospitals (UCLH), and is part of NHSD’s Future Wireless Project trials. It aims to tackle infectious and chronic diseases including tuberculosis, Covid-19, Hepatitis B and C, HIV, cardiovascular issues, STIs and flu.

The technology fitted into the Find and Treat service is intended to enable real-time remote diagnosis and referrals on board the mobile health unit. It includes artificial intelligence software, a tele-radiology network to allow remote reading of X-rays using the trials flat-pack satellites, 4G and 5G routers, roaming SIM cards and smart antenna systems, as well as a digital portable X-ray camera.

“We want technology to be used to help make healthcare accessible for everyone – and reliable, high-speed connectivity is vital to enabling that,” said Patrick Clark, NHS Digital’s director of infrastructure services.

According to Clark, the wireless connectivity options on board of the mobile unit are enabling sophisticated digital solutions to be used to  help vulnerable patients get diagnoses quickly and easily without needing to visit a hospital.

“We’ll be monitoring the impact of the Find and Treat scheme in London and  considering how such initiatives might be successfully adopted elsewhere to reach those least able to access healthcare,” the NHSD director added.

Additionally, trials running under the NHS Digital’s Future Wireless Project Trials are aimed at improving connectivity in remote locations, and the goal is to support remote healthcare workers in digitally isolated health centres to improve care. Tech used for that purpose includes emerging wireless technologies, such as 5G and Low Earth Orbit satellites, which improve signal strength and allow for faster message transmission.

According to NHSD, another trial is investigating the benefits of a faster and more reliable 5G network in hospitals. Other tools being piloted include virtual reality, augmented reality and electronic observation technologies.

The trials follow the announcement of the government’s priorities around driving digital transformation in the NHS. According to health and social care secretary Sajid Javid, the goals converge around creating a “more inclusive digital health service”.

Many of the initiatives are related to use of patient data, and the health service plans to build on work during the pandemic to develop diagnostics and treatment for Covid-19.

“NHS data is making the whole world safer and healthier,” the health secretary said at an industry event in February 2022. “Thanks to this country’s single national health service, the NHS has a precious resource in the form of data that can offer so much insight to pioneers in the life sciences, including some of the world’s largest genomic datasets.”

However, Javid accepted that “there is more to do to build trust in the use of data and reassure the public that the data will be used securely”.

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