Forty years after the first generation of cellular wireless technology, 5G is currently being deployed. By dramatically improving the speed and throughput while decreasing the latency, 5G has the technical capabilities to open the doors of digital transformation for self-driving cars, farming, supply chain management, or healthcare.
5g and 4g networks can not be compared in terms of reliability, enhanced capacity, and speed. But what are the real differences? And why has this technology the potential to be a game-changer in the healthcare transformation trend we are currently witnessing?
What 5g has to offer
Compared to the previous generation of mobile networks such as the 4g LTE network, 5g networks will offer huge improvements. Speed is the first benefit we think of. The 5g technology offers the same speed as the Wi-Fi network with download speeds in the Gbps range.
The many technical benefits of the 5g network include:
- Lower latency: The latency refers to an information system’s response time to a user or agent request. When performing remote surgery, it is easy to understand that you want the system to react as instantly as possible.
- Faster transmission: To give you an example of the speed improvement, we need to realize that this mobile phone communication technology will transmit the data faster than a residential optic fiber cable. 5g is, on average, 500 times faster than 4g. It is a massive improvement.
- The number of connections, or devices, per part, will also be dramatically increased. It means that the network will have the ability to handle a significantly greater number of devices simultaneously (IoT).
The low latency, high throughput, speed, and ability to connect numerous devices give 5g the ability to open the doors to remote operations. Healthcare delivery boundaries will soon blur, allowing for remote operations to be conducted easily and efficiently.
The only point that remains 5g to reach its full potential is to expand 5g coverage. This article will analyze how 5g is poised to change healthcare at the patient or clinician levels and in much more fundamental ways.
How to use 5g in healthcare?
The COVID-19 pandemic stressed the importance of Telehealth as a public health policy. Cellular communication is critical for telehealth to grow and reach its full potential.
One of the main limitations of the current cellular network is linked to the current network’s inability to deal with massive telehealth data.
Low latency is especially critical for remote surgery. When using a scalpel, you certainly do not want the movement to stop after a couple of hundreds of milliseconds.
A surgeon performed a brain remote surgery on a patient based more than 1,900 miles away in China. 5G promises latency as low as 2 milliseconds between the devices. Patients from areas lacking specific surgical expertise will benefit greatly from this remote expertise.
Connected ambulances will benefit tremendously from 5G. These ambulances will use ultrasound technology being streamed live to a doctor remotely located. By wearing a vibrating glove, the clinician will have the ability to control the paramedic’s hand in real-time and guide the examination.
By wearing VR headsets, the doctor and paramedic will have the ability to share the same vision and improve even more the telepresence experience.
2. Remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring requires high bandwidth and real-time transmission. Accenture noted that 65% of consumers and 86% of the doctors agree that wearables increase patient engagement, which in return decreases hospital costs by 16%
Currently, the network’s capacity to handle the data is the limiting factor for the widespread use of remote real-time monitoring technology using wearables or implantables. Slow network speeds and unreliable connections mean that doctors cannot get the real-time data they need to make quick healthcare decisions. The fastest 5g, low latency, and higher broadband could change the way connected devices are used.
Payers will be Public healthcare or Private insurers and have an incentive to keep their clients healthy. Prevention is the key to do so. Wearables keeping track of at-risk populations such as Diabetics or patients suffering from heart conditions will strongly benefit both the individuals and the private or public payer.
3. Virtual reality / Augmented reality
Virtual reality and Augmented reality technologies will continue to be part of routine training for young doctors. Haptic gloves are currently being tested for practicing virtual surgeries. All of these technologies are highly dependent on speed, bandwidth, and especially latency.
Medical Realities is a Technology Healthcare Company. In April 2016, the company’s Chief Medical Officer, Pr Shafi Ahmed, performed the world’s first live 360° operation on a cancer patient at the Royal London Hospital. Over 55,000 people watched the live stream.
AT&T* and VITAS® Healthcare, the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care, have launched a study that intends to combine 5G with virtual reality and augmented reality to test if it can help reduce chronic pain and anxiety for certain hospice patients.
In January 2019, the two companies started a study at a nationally recognized cancer center in Southern California to evaluate multiple aspects, including patient feedback on VR and AR content effectiveness. The aim was to understand better what type of content will have positive effects on the patients.
For example, to help calm an anxious patient, they might take a virtual walk through a field along a tranquil stream or even journey to Machu Picchu in Peru.
4. Data analysis
Imaging may be one low hanging fruit for the use of 5g in hospitals, especially for sonography or radiology. In January, the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago became the first hospital in the US to be equipped with 5G. Doctors and medical can access large imaging throughout the facility remotely.
The collection of data in real-time is critical for Pharmaceutical companies when conducting clinical trials. Understanding the participants’ reactions during the evaluation of a new drug will ensure the new products’ safety and assess drug candidates’ efficacy.
Not only 5g technology will help assess the efficacy and potential toxicity of a new drug’s side effects. By collecting data more smoothly, the cost of developing new medicine will also decrease for numerous reasons. First, the reception of a constant flow of data will reduce the administrative processing costs and overheads, but it will also decrease the time needed to collect the needed information.
By reducing the time needed to conduct clinical trials, the total costs to conduct clinical trials will be reduced. Ultimately, the patients will benefit from the savings made and have access more quickly to potential new life-saving drugs.
5. Decentralizing the healthcare model
Modern healthcare is still very centralized, and hospitals are at the heart of most patients’ journeys. 5g has the potential to change this classic vision of medicine and to put homecare at the center.
According to a study conducted by Ericsson, more than half of cross-industry decision-makers feel decentralizing healthcare to local centers will improve efficiency and address resource scarcity. Using technology, patients will have the ability to take control of their own health.
This dramatic paradigm shift will improve the quality of healthcare and reduce the patients’ stress and waiting time. Turning healthcare to homecare is an irreversible way to go and is closely linked to technologies’ evolution.
5g and the evolution of the healthcare ecosystem
In global healthcare, medical devices are not the only components that will benefit from reliable, fast, and efficient communication technology. By electronically tagging hospital inventory, 5g could offer a new way to manage healthcare organizations’ supply chain.
As PwC mentioned, the numerous potentials of new communication technologies will deeply modify healthcare towards deeper digital transformation. We fully agree with the concept of 4P they present. Digital healthcare has the potential to make medicine more:
- Predictive: The flow of information will help assess and control current pathologies and help prevent new ones,
- Preventative: For Covid-19, tracking and tracing the spread of the virus benefit widely,
- Personalized: The phone and associated wearables will put a doctor in your pocket 24/7,
- Participatory: If knowledge is power, exchanging and combining data from various sources is the future of new therapies.
5g and privacy concerns
The massive amount of information and data generated by these new means of communication will also carry challenges and threats—one of the main ones is keeping the health information private and secure.
Wireless networks carried numerous cyber-attack challenges. For 5g to reach its full potential, patient care should be at the healthcare ecosystem center. Protecting the data should be the one priority for the regulators and providers.
To ensure the security of sensitive health data, data encryption must be used systematically. Interoperability is critical in the digital health world. Government regulators and policymakers must develop frameworks that will allow robust and consistent exchanges between the different providers.
Another specificity of this ultrafast network lies in the customization possibilities offered. The one-size-fits-all cybersecurity concept will not work for 5g. Individual risk assessments will become an even more important component of implementing strong security measures.
We suspect that the certification of the devices and wearable will have to go beyond FDA approval. Strong security protocols will need to be defined and widely implemented to ensure reliable and private health data transfer.
5g as the crux of healthcare digital transformation
New technologies have always carried a flow of subsequent innovation. As much as a Guttenberg printing press changed knowledge transmission, the many benefits of 5g will appear gradually.
We elaborate that future changes will profoundly modify healthcare and ultimately benefit the patients in unprecedented ways, starting with telemedicine solutions and virtual health providers.