Wakayama Prefecture is a mountainous, sparsely populated region of Japan, with limited access to advanced medical institutions. Moreover, the medical offices located there are often understaffed and doctors are frequently required to see patients who are outside of their expertise. Therefore, the Wakayama Prefectural Government established a remote medical support system (a video conference system that uses an Internet connection) which 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 met with problems, including unclear images and transmission delays.
In order to address these issues, verification tests have been conducted with an optical cable to establish a remote medical examination service utilizing 5G to connect Wakayama Medical University and Hidakagawa Kokuho Kawakami Clinic, which is about 30 km from the university. As part of this, NEC set up a massive-element Active Antenna System (AAS)base station system supporting a 28 GHz band to create a 5G wireless network.
In this experiment, large-capacity 5G transmission 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.
Participants included doctors from the dermatology, cardiovascular internal medicine and orthopedic surgery departments of Wakayama Medical University and its hospital. Benefits of the experiment included the use of high-definition large-screen monitors, making it possible to easily 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.
“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. 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,” said Jun Mashino, Senior Research Engineer, 5G Radio Access Network Research Group, 5G Laboratory, NTT DOCOMO.
“The remote medical examinations system, where valuable advice can be delivered by medical specialists, will likely become a reliable support system for inexperienced doctors who are newly dispatched to remote areas. I also believe that the system can be utilized for providing emergency medical care, such as by using small-sized echo cameras to transmit high-speed video images of patients at disaster sites or at the site of an accident. We plan to continue improving the quality of rural medical services by proactively adopting cutting-edge technologies,” said Takashi Yamano, M.D., Ph.D, Department of Cardiovascular Medicine Community, Medical Support Center, Wakayama Medical University.
“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. 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. I truly hope that this kind of cutting-edge medical service spreads outside our prefecture,” said Naoki Hirabayashi, M.D., Director, Hidakagawa Kokuho Kawakami Clinic.
“In this demonstration experiment, we are honored to have contributed to the efforts to improve medical services in sparsely populated, mountainous areas by utilizing high-speed and large-capacity 5G wireless technology. We will continue to improve the performance of 5G technology and contribute to the provision of new medical services in cooperation with NTT DOCOMO and Wakayama Medical University,” said Seiji Kondo, General Manager, Wireless Access Solutions Division, NEC Corporation.
NEC’s massive-element AAS base station system adopts a fully digital control system, which improves the precision of beamforming. The fully digital control system enables simultaneous beamforming in multiple directions from a single massive-element AAS unit, which efficiently implements high-speed and high-capacity communication without interfering with adjacent users through spatial multiplexing.
NEC will continue its efforts to develop a massive-element AAS base station system that delivers high speed, high capacity, and massive connectivity, aiming for the practical use of 5G technology. As in this remote medical examination, NEC cooperates with telecommunications carriers and partners alike, aiming for the creation of new services and businesses through the utilization of 5G.
- *This trial was conducted by NTT DOCOMO under a project commissioned by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to examine the technical specificationsfor 5th generation mobile communication systems that can realize a data communication speed exceeding 10 Gbps in densely populated areas.