The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of digital initiatives in both public and private hospitals in Thailand, with the sector seeing a rising number of 5G use cases in recent months. In addition, the best minds in the tech and scientific sectors are working together on state-of-the-art technologies to drive medical research and innovation to unprecedented heights.
With Thailand taking the lead in 5G technology in ASEAN and the government's progressive policies to position the nation as a global medical hub, it is expected that emerging technologies will reshape healthcare services in the near future. Indeed, over the past few months, 5G-based innovative medical solutions have been dedicated to enhancing the efficiency of care for COVID-19- infected patients and reducing risk of contact transmission.
Robotic solutions are among the advanced technologies playing a crucial role in combating the pandemic. Inside the hospitals, the robots are deployed for disinfection, medicine and food delivery, the monitoring of vital signs and measuring patients' body temperature, thus significantly reducing the risk of infection among personnel.
Mr. Somchai Lertsutiwong, Chief Executive Officer of Advanced Info Service (AIS), Thailand's largest 5G network provider, says that during the coronavirus outbreak in Thailand, the company invested 100 million baht to develop 5G Robots for Care and these were given to 22 hospitals. The latest innovations in the AIS Robot Platform on the 5G network have allowed physicians to communicate and monitor patients' conditions through contactless interactions.
In addition, AIS has collaborated with Chulabhorn Hospital in creating Total Telemedicine Solutions to provide medical services via the 5G platform and to serve as a model hospital for Thailand. The solutions include an AI-assisted medical image-processing system for COVID-19 that enhances CT Scan efficiency with faster and more precise diagnosis of lung disease. The telemedicine system will also enable physicians to communicate with patients via video calls. \
TKK Corporation, a leading solution provider of factory automation, partnered with Panyapiwat Institute of Management and CP All Plc to bring 5G to the development of Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs), the next level of robotics solutions designed to directly respond to the needs of hospitals. Based on the 5G platform, the sophisticated AMR navigates via GPS to pick up and drop off medicines, food and medical supplies. The robot uses data from built-in sensors and laser scanners as well as software that enables it to detect its surroundings and choose the most efficient route to the target destination.
True Corporation has collaborated with Nopparat Rajathanee Hospital in Bangkok in demonstrating a new standard of emergency medical services called ER New Normal. The True 5G MedTech Ambulance is a smart emergency unit that helps enhance diagnosis, treatment and communication between paramedics in the ambulance and physicians in the hospital allowing the latter to prepare effectively to receive the patients before they reach the hospital.
AR Professional Consult Powered by True 5G is a virtual communications system designed for paramedics to use to consult specialists remotely and therefore provide better care to emergency patients. True Corporation has supplied the system to Siriraj Hospital. Moreover, True 5G Temi Connect & Carebot helps physicians reduce direct contact with the patients and can also be used to deliver medical supplies and dossiers.
Mr. Piroon Paireepairit, Head of 5G Working Group at True Corporation, says that if these health technologies demonstrate realistic use cases, the model can be applied to other hospitals to improve emergency care. Anticipating that 5G will revolutionise medical and healthcare services in Thailand, True Corporation has so far spent more than 50 million baht on developing 5G use cases for the medical sector.
In addition to the local telecom operators, Huawei Technologies (Thailand) Co., Ltd., a global leader in 5G technology, is also eyeing Thailand as a potential market for its 5G, Cloud and AI (Artificial Intelligence) solutions.
Huawei partnered with Thailand's National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) and Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, the Kingdom’s leading state hospital and the largest medical school in Thailand, in trialling a 5G unmanned vehicle at the hospital as part of the “Unmanned Vehicle Pilot Project: Driving Thai Healthcare to the 5G Era”. Delivery was made in June 2020.
The self-driving delivery vehicle marks the point of departure for digital technology use across the Thai public health sector, says Mr. Abel Deng, CEO of Huawei Technologies (Thailand) Co., Ltd., adding that this AI-assisted solution based on cloud technology will take the quality of medical services to a new level.
In the initial stages, the unmanned vehicle will be used to transport and distribute medicines and medical supplies thus reducing the workload and risk of infection among frontline workers.
Collaborative research to combat COVID-19
The Yothi Medical Innovation District (YMID), which was launched in late 2018 as a key component of the government’s initiative to put Thailand at the centre of medical innovations, is now joining forces with Phyathai Hospital Group-Paolo Hospital Group, Rajavithi Hospital and the Centre for Medical Genomics at the Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital of Mahidol University to develop an AI technology-based screening device to detect pneumonia associated with COVID-19.
The project is receiving the support of three private firms, namely Advanced Info Services, Mellow Innovation, and JLK Inspection Korea, all of which have experience and expertise in the application of AI in the medical field. They are providing AI technology for the research at no cost. The project is another example of the partnership between public and private organizations that seeks to help relieve the workload of medical personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Prapasri Benchasiriluck, Director of the Medical Research and Innovation Development Department, and Head of the Private Accelerated Research and Innovation Centre under Phyathai Hospital Group-Paolo Hospital Group, explains that the centre and its strategic partners have developed a Portable Chest X-ray (CXR) based on AI technology to detect this particular type of pneumonia. Thanks to the precision technologies of Mellow Innovation and JLK Inspection Korea, the CXR is able to diagnose 15 diseases from an analysis of the chest x-ray. The technology has been certified by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of South Korea for preliminary screening of COVID-19 pneumonia in Thailand.
“The CXR project is currently undergoing a second assessment for accuracy in detecting infection in medical personnel, at-risk groups and volunteers. The centre will compare the AI interpretation with the detection of SARS-CoV-2B using the molecular biology technique. The researchers from the centre and the Centre for Medical Genomics at the Faculty of Medicine Ramathibodi Hospital will take swabs from infected patients to confirm the accuracy of the AI. The project will be completed before the end of the year and then used for the detection of COVID-19 pneumonia,” Dr. Prapasri says.