The healthcare industry worldwide is on the cusp of transformation, huge leaps in technology are impacting it at every level.
Alongside scientific and medical research and breakthroughs, this includes deploying technology in new ways to automate healthcare operations and delivery of care.
Connectivity is the major influence that is transforming the healthcare industry.
5G technology in particular offers the promise of extending and improving healthcare for patients all over the world.
Faster and more reliable data transfer allows healthcare providers to transmit large amounts of data, including high-resolution images and videos in real time, which in turn assists in consultation, diagnosis, and treatment.
Today, people expect healthcare services to be predictive, preventive, personalised, and participatory; and, all this can be achieved and amplified with the help of 5G.
5G technologies have brought about an entirely new ecosystem, providing improved access to information and medical facilities, which can cater to people’s new expectations of healthcare delivery.
It has also enabled healthcare providers to extend the reach of cost-effective, accurate, efficient, and convenient healthcare at scale and speed
Impact and Uses of 5G in Healthcare
The adoption of 5G technology in healthcare has the potential to revolutionise the industry.
The 5G healthcare market is expected to reach USD 3.67 billion by 2026.
From supporting telemedicine and remote care to enabling real-time remote monitoring and AI systems, there are numerous ways in which 5G can help deliver more personalised healthcare.
With 5G promising speed and easy real-time information sharing, medical treatment can be preventative, rather than reactive.
Some of the prominent 5G use cases include Connected Patients, Remote Healthcare and Telemedicine, Remote Assistance, Automation and Robotic Surgery, Emergency Care and others.
Given the huge shortage of nurses as reported by the NHS, 5G can enable large-scale remote monitoring of patients.
Similarly, Telemedicine can help build easy connections between patients and healthcare providers.
With wider outreach now a clear possibility, patients in remote areas can access healthcare more easily.
The 5G network supports high-definition video consultations with no delays to ensure a seamless experience.
This saves time for both patients and providers and is particularly valuable during emergencies. This was explored in Liverpool, as part of the Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care project.
For chronic afflictions that require constant monitoring, 5G technology can help healthcare providers to keep track of patients, while they continue their normal lives.
The patients can avoid hospitalisation, and hospitals can focus on constant monitoring and round-the-clock medical care.
In some countries, 5G remote monitoring systems have been used for high-risk patients with chronic diseases.
The West Midlands 5G programme and the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust performed UK’s first remote ultrasound scan over a public 5G network.
A paramedic performed the ultrasound scan under the remote guidance of a clinician, who was able to interpret the images in real time.
Surgery delays due to the unavailability of a senior doctor can also be supported by 5G.
Smart interventions enabled by 5G technology mean that senior surgeons can advise the surgical team remotely during an operation, thus providing the critical medical support needed and reducing wait times for patients.
In Italy, San Raffaele Hospital in Milan has partnered with Vodafone to use 5G-empowered augmented reality (AR) to guide surgeons during operations.
5G’s bandwidth and low latency make it possible to use Virtual or Augmented Reality to treat patients, either through distraction therapy, pain management, rehabilitation and exposure therapy.
For example, under the Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care project, 5G-connected VR headsets were given to patients in palliative care and were used for distraction therapy and pain management.
The feedback was positive, with a reduction in pain medication seen in some cases.
Vodafone’s AR HoloLens helps paramedics in Italy to access patients’ medical records and other critical information.
In case of an urgent need or emergency, 5G technology can enable faster and more reliable communication so that the nearest ambulance or care can be delivered to the patient, all while the doctors advise emergency personnel on first-aid/ treatment, besides closely monitoring patients’ conditions.
In the UK, for instance, mobile clinics and ambulances use 5G to receive real-time updates and provide remote triage, diagnosis, and treatment of patients.
This functionality can be extended to equip hospitals with live tracking so they can anticipate the patient’s needs on arrival.
Healthcare, as an industry, needs to adapt to changes quickly. Healthcare organisations must assess their current and future needs, and consider how 5G technology can meet them.
Apart from evaluating their current network infrastructure, they must identify areas where 5G can enhance patient care and operational efficiency, and develop a comprehensive plan for implementing 5G technology.
It is important to avoid the risk of oversimplifying the implementation of 5G technology. Healthcare organisations must also carefully consider the potential risks and challenges associated with such a significant change.
One major consideration is regulatory cybersecurity and data privacy, as 5G networks are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, and healthcare providers are bound to safeguard healthcare information.
They must take every step to ensure that patient data is protected.
That said, from a cybersecurity perspective, the usage of WiFi has a higher threat for cyber attackers, while 5G is safer.
Another consideration is the cost of implementing 5G technology, as it may require significant investment in infrastructure and equipment.
Healthcare providers must weigh the potential benefits against the costs and determine whether the investment is worth it.
Infosys has helped healthcare providers adopt 5G technology by bringing in domain experts from telecom and healthcare together to design better services.
Leveraging data to perform descriptive-predictive-prescriptive analytics and transferring it with recommendations in milliseconds to the user using 5G can enhance the user experience and also help them make informed decisions.
It can also help healthcare organisations identify potential healthcare use cases, such as remote patient monitoring, surgical robotics, and telemedicine, that can leverage 5G technology to improve patient outcomes, reduce costs, and increase efficiency.
By partnering with telecom services and bringing payers and telecom providers together, the needs of healthcare patients and providers can be met.
The potential benefits of 5G technology in healthcare are significant, and healthcare institutions that can successfully adopt it will have a competitive advantage in the market.
However, given that 5G adoption is still nascent, there needs to be more study and deliberation on the potential ethical and social implications of these new technologies.
For instance, there needs to be robust strategy setting and stringent policies in place around the use of data collected from remote monitoring and telemedicine, and the potential for these technologies to exacerbate existing health disparities. On the other hand, the patients may also be concerned about the health data that is shared.
Despite these factors, there is no denying that from improving patient outcomes to reducing operational costs, 5G has the potential to transform the healthcare industry in profound ways.