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The implementation and benefits of private 5G networks in healthcare

By Dr Paul Carter, CEO, Global Wireless Solutions

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With the first trial of a private 5G network in a UK hospital underway, what kind of benefits will this technology provide both staff and patients?

Dr Paul Carter examines recent developments and where best the healthcare industry can implement private 5G networks for maximum benefit.

Hospitals and health service providers across the UK have been struggling as they have had to manage both a typical case load coupled with significant spikes in hospital admissions due to COVID.

While the implementation of modern innovations such as private 5G networks have been pushed aside to make room for more pressing matters in the past two years, UK healthcare services are once again looking to the future when it comes to technological innovation and investment.

Bethlehem Royal Hospital in Beckenham recently became the first hospital in the UK to trial the use of a private 5G network.

This milestone is part of a trend in the digitisation of healthcare and hospital functions, allowing employees to have instant communication across different hospital departments as well as securing safer transmission of data across the organisation.

Hospital staff will have the ability to update patient records digitally and make live observations, which can then be instantly relayed to staff in other departments, so everyone is updated and aware in real time.

In addition, the use of IoT devices will enable staff to not only monitor the refrigeration of drugs to ensure they are stored at proper temperatures but also track the air quality throughout the hospital.

Small margins are crucial in health settings and this technology will help the hospital work towards their large goals of improving care quality, increasing efficiency, and reducing waste.

Other 5G-related innovations the hospital is putting to use include augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI).

AR will assist IT teams by allowing specialists in one location to guide staff through complex tasks remotely.

AI, with the help of CCTV, will be used to track and understand the movement of people throughout the hospital; thus enabling staff to get a better picture of where and when queues form, what areas of the hospital are busy, and how long people have to wait for service.

WHAT IS A PRIVATE 5G NETWORK?

Companies across the country are beginning to adopt private 5G networks – demonstrating a growing digital transformation across multiple industries and business segments.

Private 5G networks are designed to enable both businesses and service providers, such as those in healthcare, to utilise their own 5G network across their entire workspace.

There’s no need to worry about available bandwidth, security, coverage, and other concerns they may have when using an operator’s local network that’s shared with tens of thousands of subscribers.

Not only do private 5G networks allow access to technological innovations such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, but they also provide s secure digital infrastructure which can improve visibility over logistical processes.

WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DOES A PRIVATE 5G NETWORK PROVIDE FOR HEALTHCARE?

I noted that Bethlehem Royal Hospital uses private 5G networks to improve services, including the monitoring of pharmaceuticals and using the improved connectivity to keep staff informed of what is happening around the hospital.

In addition to those benefits, there are others that the healthcare industry can take advantage of when implementing private 5G networks.

The pandemic led to serious development in the infrastructure of “at home” technology, namely services such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, allowing stakeholders to communicate effectively with peers.

The advancement of this technology led to patients being able to attend appointments with healthcare professionals from their own homes, negating the risk of transferring coronavirus if they had any symptoms.

This method remains in practice now, and a private 5G network would provide a superior method of communication in comparison to a potentially sluggish Wi-Fi that may have several devices from various staff connected to it.

Further, those working within the emergency services would be able to use a private 5G network to ensure each response team – police, ambulance, and fire service – had their own dedicated bandwidth and channel of communications, so that hospital staff would be able to quickly transmit information to other teams and improve response times.

In general, communication across a hospital facility’s departments and wards needs to be as swift and secure as possible.

Private 5G networks offer enhancements on these functions, allowing critical data such as confidential patient information to be instantly safely transferred between staff.

Test results being sent across departments, such as MRI or CAT scans also need to be transmitted as soon as possible and in the best possible resolution, which private 5G networks can handle considerably better than the current networks in place.

The existing technologies in place in healthcare facilities don’t compete with what private 5G has to offer. Wi-Fi isn’t as secure and reliable as mobile data connections, and ethernet requires fixed cables and ports across the building.

So, it’s good news that with investments set to continue within the 5G sphere, hospitals and healthcare providers are catching up and improving their technological infrastructure.

Medical interventions are advancing at an ever-increasing rate, often with several medical imaging utilities used at once to get the best possible information regarding patients, and private 5G networks are crucial to this becoming the standard across healthcare facilities in the country.

Overall, private 5G networks have much to offer – it’s clear they can help healthcare providers cope with today’s struggles.

It’s important now that Bethlehem Royal Hospital’s private 5G network is not just a trial in a singular hospital – instead just the first step into the true potential of health technology.

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