Remote patient consultations done in 3D could soon be coming to the far-flung regions of the country – removing the need for travel – following successful trials in Glasgow.

The West of Scotland Innovation Hub, hosted by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, has been piloting a project that leverages Microsoft’s Holoportation communication technology to allow clinicians to carry out the consultations remotely in 3D.

This is the first time this technology has been used in a clinical setting and Professor Steven Lo, consultant plastic surgeon at Canniesburn Plastic Surgery and Burns Unit in Glasgow, who has been leading the project, has been able to treat and examine patients involved in the trial without being in the same room.

He said: “We have patients that may have to travel three, four, five hours or maybe even have to take a plane from one of the islands to come for a consultation or physiotherapy with a specialist. We hope that this technology can be brought to remote communities to allow us to see patients in a much more convenient way for them, while retaining the same level of detail as an in-person consultation.”

Paul Fitzgerald, 55, from Greenock has been taking part in the Holoportation trial.

He said: “About two years ago I discovered a lump on the back of my leg and I was diagnosed with a sarcoma cancer. Professor Lo asked me if I would be interested in taking part in the Holoportation technology trial and I was able to come and see a demonstration of how it would work.

“The benefits it gives you as a patient are great. You don’t have to move around, the cameras give the consultant a full view of you and I found that it gave me a better understanding of my situation as I could see everything on the screen. I think it helps inform patients, without upsetting them and without the need for loads of different meetings. 

“Although you’re not in the same room, you still get a full and in-depth consultation.”

The project stemmed from discussions between Professor Lo and Microsoft’s Research team in 2019, after being made aware of the technology. The discussions initially centred around increasing access to care in low to middle income countries. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the trial pivoted to focus on clinical testing in Glasgow in 2020, with trials commencing through the West of Scotland Innovation Hub.

The Microsoft tool allowed the research team to see immunocompromised patients in a safe and socially distanced way, without impacting on how comprehensive appointments were. Professor Lo added: “Microsoft’s Holoportation communication technology was hugely beneficial during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, where seeing patients face-to-face was a challenge. We have also had really positive feedback from the patients who have been part of the trial. 

“We have worked closely with the Microsoft Research team on this solution and our role has been to apply this technology to ensure that it is specifically fit-to-purpose for both patients and clinicians. Critically, the patient’s voice has been included early and strongly in the development of the Holoportation system.” 

“Early data indicates that Holoportation aligns more closely with a face-to-face consultation than a standard 2D telemedicine consultation. As we progress to the randomised trial stage, we hope to see more encouraging results with the view of one day bringing a service to people in remote parts of the country.”