5G’s benefits shown in ‘world-first’ opthalmic tele-examination

Consultant ophthalmologist and director of Digital Innovation at Moorfields Eye Hospital, Peter Thomas, and Iain Livingstone, consultant ophthalmologist and acute Tele-ophthalmology system lead from NHS Forth Valley in Scotland, have delivered what they say is the world’s first tele-examination of an eye in 4K resolution using 5G broadband, streamed live to a conference in Edinburgh.

Together with NHS clinical entrepreneur, Chrishan Gunasekera, Peter Thomas used a 5G-connected smartphone attached to a portable slit lamp outside the Richard Desmond Children’s Eye Centre on the Moorfields site to provide a live image of his eye for examination at the conference. This demonstrated that an eye image of high enough quality to be used in clinic can be streamed in real time, opening up considerable potential for telemedicine in the future. The remote imaging was achieved using the Attend Anywhere platform, which utilised 4K streaming to provide a high quality video feed where the smallest details of disease can be visualised by an ophthalmologist who may be many miles away. 

This tele-examination was also able to utilise London and Edinburgh’s new 5G network, and existing portable slit lamps which the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust says are ‘low cost and widely accessible, allowing a full consultation without the need for a clinic room’.

The Moorfields Trust said: “This approach has many potential benefits to patients, including the added convenience for those who might no longer need to travel into hospital and can be examined by a distant specialist ophthalmologist at their local optometrist or A&E Department. The platform could also provide more patients with access to specialists in rare diseases who based far away from them. In addition, providing detailed examinations remotely could increase the access to specialist advice for patients in under-resourced countries, providing there is a good internet connection and some low cost equipment.”

Moorfields is planning to launch teleconsultation services to its patients on the Attend Anywhere platform as part of an NHSI pilot in the next few months. The NHS Forth Valley / Strathclyde emergency tele-ophthalmology network is being piloted across multiple Scottish Boards and primary care.

Chrishan Gunasekera, an ophthalmology registrar at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said: “It’s been amazing to utilise the full resolution of one of the latest smartphone cameras to perform a remote eye exam. This will really be transformative to patient care.”

Dr Mario Giardini, from University of Strathclyde’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, a partner in Scotland’s tele-ophthalmology team, said: “The emergence of 5G technology offers vast opportunities for medicine and healthcare. We demonstrated in this consultation how effective and valuable it can be as a tool for diagnosis and decision making. The quality of telecommunications is now allowing the transmission of very detailed images, and we expect that telemedicine will soon reach the same clarity as in-person consultations, connecting remote areas to doctors, and promoting equality in access to healthcare.