5G Network Enables Remote Laser Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy

By David Douglas

July 19, 2021

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The enhanced telemedicine capacity of the 5G high-speed wireless system has allowed remote real-time retinal laser telephotocoagulation in patients with diabetic retinopathy (DR), according to a study conducted in China.

"The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has catalyzed the need to digitally transform global eye care, especially for those rural population who are not able to travel physically to the metropolitan areas to receive their specialist medical care," said Dr. Daniel Shu Wei Ting of Singapore National Eye Center Duke-NUS Medical School.

"The tele-laser intervention, harnessing the 5G network, could save the rural patients from traveling a thousand miles to seek specialists' care in China, opening up an entirely new opportunity to improve eye care and reduce diabetes-related irreversible blindness," he told Reuters Health by email.

Retinal laser telephotocoagulation primarily depends on multimedia data from imaging studies, which can be readily transmitted through high-speed 5G networks.

As they explain in JAMA Ophthalmology, Dr. Ting and colleagues developed an improved telemedicine system including a videoconference platform for teleconsultation using the new technology.

"The 5G tele-communication networks have several advantages," Dr. Ting noted. "They have extremely low latency, higher capacity, and improve the speed of data transmission through the use of higher frequency millimeter waves compared to 4G networks. They can deliver an end-to-end latency of less than 5 milliseconds and over-the-air latency of less than one millisecond - which is one-tenth of the 4G network latency."

Using the 5G-based system, a retinal specialist from the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing performed online real-time navigated retinal laser photocoagulation to treat six participants (nine eyes) with proliferative or severe nonproliferative DR. The patients were located in Huzhou, some 1,200 km from Beijing. Their mean age was 54 years and their mean diabetes duration was 14 years.

The telephotocoagulation operations were performed on all eyes without any noticeable delay during treatment. There were no complications during photocoagulation or any other stage of the procedure. Four participants (seven eyes) had no significant changes in visual acuity throughout a one-month follow-up period. However, because of the pandemic, two participants were not followed up until six months postoperatively, at which time they reported decreases in visual acuity and poor glucose control.

Dr. Ting noted, "Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) multimedia streaming with enhanced user experience will require 5G transmission that could facilitate a much faster and stable data transfer, enabling better quality and reliable video-consultations for patients with vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy that require laser intervention."

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3yHI7Lc JAMA Ophthalmology, online July 8, 2021.