Scottish trial to use satellite technology to enhance patient care

Amy Schofield 14 November 2017

A collaboration between Scottish health services and a global broadband services and technology company is set to change how remotely located patients in Scotland are cared for.

The University of Aberdeen's Centre for Rural Health, NHS Highland and the Scottish Ambulance Service are working on a pilot programme with ViaSat, called SatCare. The initiative will enable paramedics to send high-resolution video and ultrasound images from connected ambulances to hospital-based medical experts, ahead of a patient's hospital arrival. 

The one-year SatCare trial, partly-funded by the European Space Agency (ESA), aims to help approximately 1000 patients living in remote and rural Scotland. The goal is to provide better patient care on long ambulance journeys, as well as provide more streamlined care upon hospital arrival, such as immediate transfer to an operating theatre.

The connected ambulances will utilise ViaSat's advanced satellite communications system, operating on its jointly-owned KA-SAT high throughput satellite network.

As part of the pilot, five Scottish ambulances have been equipped with state-of-the-art scanning equipment and ViaSat's satellite broadband communications system. Scans that take a paramedic less than five minutes to record and package with a video summary of the patient's condition will be transmitted in seconds over ViaSat's satellite system to the emergency department of Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, Scotland. The hospital experts will then assess the patient's needs, give medical advice to the paramedic in transit, and mobilise resources or specialist teams required for the patient's arrival.

The SatCare technology has been successfully tested using healthy volunteers. It will now be put into trial, helping several potentially life-threatening conditions, including major trauma, chest pain, shortness of breath, abdominal pain and circulatory shock, all of which could benefit from more accurate early diagnosis. 

Professor Philip Wilson, Director of the Centre for Rural Health, said: "This trial is a landmark in rural emergency care research. It will establish the best way to use very sophisticated technology to support paramedics in caring for sick patients on the long journey to a hospital and to alert A&E staff to what kind of treatments may be needed when the patient arrives. This research will tell us how effective and, equally important, how cost-effective this technology can be."


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