AN endoscopy may be a useful – if somewhat unpleasant – procedure to help find out what’s happening inside your body, but a new process being developed in Scotland could lessen the discomfort and negate the need to travel to hospital.

Instead, patients swallow a disposable capsule containing a video camera which is, in itself, not new.

However, the 400,000 images captured as the HiCap makes its way through your inner workings can be downloaded wirelessly by medics and analysed instantly.

It saves time and effort of patients having to travel to hospital to have the photos downloaded, as well as staff time.

Joanne Boyle, from the Digital Health Institute Scotland (DHI) led the collaboration that brought together the health, business and academic partners in the project, which is being evaluated in the NHS Highland area.

“This is an ingestible capsule that contains a video camera and it is swallowed and passes through your body within 24 hours,” said Boyle.

“Within that time, it captures up to 400,000 images.

“It passes through the body naturally and isn’t recyclable or retained – that’s always the first question people ask.

“The person that swallows the capsule wears a recorder at the same time and that wirelessly transmits the video, or film images which are downloaded and compressed for remote viewing and analysis.”

Digital markers are then put in place on the footage, which is then sent to the consultant for viewing and further analysis.

Boyle said the Highlands was an ideal location to find out the effectiveness of the HiCap initiative.

“It is a remote and rural area with GPs being able to provide these video capsules in partnership with the consultant to save people having to travel long distances for hospital appointments in Inverness,” she said.

“The consultant often describes it as ‘the ultimate selfie’ because it’s obviously taking film internally.

“A couple of GP practices have signed up as part of it to look at the outcomes and benefits for patients not having to travel or take time off work.”

Boyle says clinical trials could come early next year, but she is in no doubt of HiCap’s significance: “It’s a huge breakthrough.

“There’s some early evidence that indicates that when they’re capturing the internal colon you can potentially view a 3-D image as opposed to 2-D component.

“This has an obvious potential for bowel cancer screening and the ability to identify polyps at a pre-cancerous stage that might not be as visible in two dimensions.

“These are all early findings we’re beginning to look at, but they are early indicators of the potential benefits.

“Traditionally, what has happened is the video capsules have been used but then it’s NHS staff who need time to look at them.

“But what we’re doing is taking it one stage further and the patient doesn’t have to come back to the hospital for the download – all of that can be done remotely and virtually and that’s the unique part of it.”