Camera pill could replace endoscopy

A 'camera pill' will be trialled in the West Midlands, allowing vital easier tests for complaints including bowel cancer

Patients awaiting an endoscopy – a procedure where a camera is fed into the bowel through a thin tube – will soon be instead able to swallow the pill in the comfort of their own homes.

The a pill-sized camera, enabled by 5G technology, could deliver images to experts who can then diagnose medical problems that need further investigation.

The trial is a collaboration between West Midlands 5G, NHS Arden and Greater East Midlands Commissioning Support Unit, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire, and CorporateHealth International.

The pilot will develop the CCE Smartbox, a device that can be used independently in patient’s homes. Supported by 5G, the Smartbox will both capture and transmit images of the bowel without the need for a hospital setting.

As of April there were 187,000 patients scheduled for an endoscopy in hospitals in the UK, many of whom are on waiting lists for their procedures. It is hoped that the development of the 5G-connected Smartbox will reduce this bottleneck through self-administration of the test.

Although this kind of device has been available to patients for around 15 years, self-administration at home has not yet been trialled at scale, with 5G connectivity the hope is to make more widespread adoption of this technology possible.

Ramesh Arasaradnam, senior gastroenterologist at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire, said: “Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in the UK with around 20,000 deaths each year. We also know that if detected early, the prognosis is good.’’

"Each year, over two million endoscopies are scheduled to take place through the NHS, but the level of demand combined with limited clinical capacity has resulted in a backlog. This has been exacerbated by Covid-19 as endoscopy rooms require additional cleaning between procedures, limiting the number of appointments that can be handled in a day.

“Through the application of 5G technology, it is feasible that patients can swallow the capsule and undertake the whole process in the comfort of their own homes. As we strive to build the evidence base, we believe that many of these procedures could potentially be undertaken each year easing the burden on the NHS and reducing stress and uncertainty for patients.”

James Cameron, chief operating officer at CorporateHealth International UK, said: “The key to success is working with such innovation-driven partners. This project helps create new technologies that can deliver digestive disease diagnostics in patients’ own homes. Trials, powered by our platform, will start imminently where technology and patient-to-clinician process evaluation will be conducted diligently to ensure the best possible outcome for all.

“After the evaluation period, we will be delivering a report on the findings from the patient trial group, analysing the effectiveness and safety of the at-home procedures and 5G connectivity.”

Robert Franks, managing director of WM5G, added: “5G holds the ability to revolutionise the way we think about healthcare making it more patient-centric. This trial will show it is not only possible to transform how we conduct investigative procedures, but to also make it more efficient and intuitive for the clinician to analyse the findings.

“Covid-19 has made it crystal clear we need to seek more ways in which remote monitoring and assessments are conducted. This will accelerate the pace of which patients can be seen, reducing unnecessary stress and worry and ease the pressure on hospitals and staff without impacting on the quality of care.”

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