Here’s how this mobile ‘Deployable CT system’ aims to improve healthcare in rural Thailand

Chulabhorn Hospital’s brand new ‘Deployable CT Systems’ is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia. Dr Jiraporn Laothamatas, who headed the project, reveals the inspiration behind this innovative venture.

When COVID-19 hit Thailand, Chulabhorn Hospital – like many other healthcare providers in the world – found themselves swarmed with pandemic-related tasks, such as having to screen and treat patients who had the virus.

As a result, the hospital found it difficult to cater time to treat their regular patients. This issue was exacerbated by the fact that the sterilising equipment and rooms at the hospital, especially after a COVID-19 related case, was a time-consuming process.

This led to Dr Jiraporn Laothamatas – a Professor at Chulabhorn Royal Academy – and her team to devise a novel solution to their problem: a mobile deployable CT system.

Explaining the inspiration behind the innovative project, which is officially titled ‘Deployable CT Systems for Epidemic Crisis and Battlefields’, Dr Jiarporn said: “The COVID-19 pandemic was the trigger point for us. We found that it was taking a lot more time for us to do an examination on each patient, mainly because it took about an hour or so for sterilisation to be done after every COVID-19 case.

“This led to us being unable to provide certain services for our regular patients, so we thought of having a mobile CT scanning system dedicated to detecting COVID-19, or other airborne transmitted diseases.”

To safely transport the Deployable CT system around Thailand, Chulabhorn Hospital worked with a local vendor to construct a special trailer that boasts features like a fibre-reinforced plastic body, which is not only lightweight and mouldable, but also anti-chemical, anti-corrosion, and long-lasting.

The hospital also engaged GE Healthcare for their Revolution Maxima CT scanner, which utilises artificial intelligence (AI) technology to auto position the camera, thus eliminating the need for any physical contact with the patient.

Other notable features of the CT scanning room in the trailer include ultraviolet light cleaning, as well an extreme air exchange rate system that helps to change the air in the room within a minute.

According to Dr Jiraporn, the AI technology used in the CT scanner, in particular, will help with Thailand’s chronic problem with pulmonary tuberculosis (TB).

“In Thailand, we have an increased frequency of patients with pulmonary TB,” she said. “Most people currently use chest x-rays for the diagnosis of pulmonary TB, but that’s not the optimal tool. By using this Deployable CT system, however, we can soon build the AI pattern for pulmonary TB.”

To do that, however, the Deployable CT system had to be able to travel to different parts of Thailand, so that it can build the database using the same machine and scanning techniques.

More importantly, the mobility of the CT scanner allows Chulabhorn Hospital to reach out to those in the rural areas of Thailand, who may not have easy access to CT services.

“The CEO of our hospital envisions using this Deployable CT system project to help medical facilities in Thailand that do not have the necessary expertise or the equipment, especially with regard to combatting COVID-19, pulmonary TB, or any other disease,” said Dr Jiraporn.

She noted that the Deployable CT system would be a welcome addition to the hospital’s mobile treatment group – which includes a mammography and dental unit – that aims to “go out and help people in rural areas”.

Added Dr Jiraporn: The idea of Chulabhorn’s healthcare service is that we don’t want to be a hospital that just cures our patients. We are also thinking of health promotion and prophylactic measures. That is why we try to detect and treat conditions as early as possible.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we realised that CT scanning is one of the best and ways to detect for the virus. Yes, with the Antigen Rapid Test Kits, people can test for COVID quickly now.

“But the damage that COVID-19 does to your lungs stays on even after you are cured. So now, we can still use the CT scanner to assess the severity of damage done to the lung parenchyma of COVID patients, and if needed, provide the necessary early treatment to save the patient’s lung function.”

While the Deployable CT systems have yet to officially launch – it is set for early next year – Dr Jiaporn is already excited at its vast potential.

“This concept (of a mobile Deployable CT system) is something that I believe will help to improve healthcare in Thailand,” said Dr Jiraporn. “This is still a pilot project, but we’re already looking at ways of improving it moving forward, especially in terms of managing its cost.

“After all, we believe that this Deployable CT system will be useful in other Southeast Asian countries as well. So, we are working closely with our partners to fine-tune this concept and hopefully, it will benefit many people, be it in Thailand or in the region.”