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Opinion

The potential of new cellular network technology to transform healthcare

By Ted Curtis, senior engineer at NETSCOUT

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Over the past few years, the use of technology to improve healthcare standards has soared worldwide.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, medical technology played a pivotal role in helping health services continue to operate while other industries were forced to shut down.

A key enabler of the continued operation of medical services throughout the pandemic and since has been cellular network technology, particularly 5G.

This is the fifth-generation mobile network, which provides faster download and upload speeds than its predecessor, 4G.

Several significant advances have been made in the health sector in recent years thanks to 5G-backed medical technologies.

For example, the technology has enabled provision of real-time telemedicine (remote video calls with practitioners), remote surgery, and artificial intelligence (AI)-enhanced diagnostics aiding the early detection of diseases and providing more accurate diagnoses.

Ted Curtis

These advances have granted medical staff more time to focus on important tasks and decisions, and improved the quality of care offered to patients. In turn, this has helped to increase the efficacy and timeliness of treatments, potentially saving many lives.

Technology in action

In the past few months, the NHS has been supporting trials to enable health and care organisations to harness the potential of emerging cellular network technology.

One promising example is the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, which recently became the first 5G-connected hospital in the UK. T

his provided healthcare professionals with access to the eObs (eObservations) app and the use of handheld devices to update patient records digitally and make live observations.

In 2022, University College London Hospitals equipped its Find and Treat service mobile health clinic with 5G technology to improve the screening, testing and treatment of approximately ten thousand vulnerable, homeless and high-risk people in London.

The mobile clinic’s new equipment consists of digital portable X-ray cameras, AI software, and tele-radiology networks to allow remote reading of X-rays amongst other tools.

This equipment has so far enabled real-time remote diagnosis and referrals, all from the facilities of the mobile care unit.

These examples lead the way for further medical advancements brought about by introducing 5G technologies to the healthcare sector.

The new wave of cellular network technology

The various 5G-enabled medical advancements have laid the groundwork for those that could potentially be brought about by 6G, which could unlock even greater transformative potential for the role technology may play in improving healthcare.

As the burden on healthcare services continues to grow, the possibility of using 6G alongside AI technology to digitise tasks, such as the prescription of medicine, could provide much needed relief for healthcare workers.

This technology will free up valuable staff time, which is arguably the health service’s most important resource, especially during extended periods of staff shortages.

How 6G can further advance medical care

Since the current data-sharing capability of 5G is best for short ranges only, the prospect of 6G may provide a boost to this, which could enable the performance of remote procedures from a greater distance and allow surgeons to work more efficiently.

6G is predicted to operate in a wider range of frequency bands than 5G, with fewer delays in network communication.

The key areas of growth that 6G technologies may enable focus on improving communication and collaboration.

The integration of 6G in addition to AI could allow medical professionals, including researchers, to exchange ideas and information faster and more effectively, irrespective of location.

The new generation of wireless technology has the potential to enable better patient outcomes and enhance remote healthcare capabilities.

What’s more, the introduction of 6G technology would facilitate accessing and sharing of patient data, research findings and other important information.

As mentioned, the ability of 6G and AI to analyse large amounts of data could free up precious time for healthcare professionals, allowing staff to identify patterns and predict possible health issues and outcomes in patients.

Furthermore, it will permit data sharing in real time, enabling staff to make vital decisions quickly and safely.

What 6G technology means for the future of healthcare

As wireless technology continues to progress, 6G will enable medical professionals to employ new technologies that are not possible with the capabilities of 5G alone.

For instance, taking telemedical appointments a step further, 6G introduces the potential for holographic communications between healthcare professionals and patients.

It will also enable surgeons to perform procedures in person or remotely, guided by holographic representations of the patient’s anatomy.

The high-speed data transfer capabilities of 6G can facilitate the development of personalised treatment plans tailored to the patient’s unique genetic makeup, via the rapid analysis of large datasets.

6G networks’ advanced sensing and imaging technologies could also assist with the early detection of cancerous growths with enhanced, high-resolution 3D imaging in real time.

The exciting advances 6G intends to create will provide great promise for the potential of the future generations of mobile network technology, which could transform the way healthcare services operate.

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