Published: July 20, 2020
5G – An Opportunity to Improve our Healthcare Industry
The continuing evolution of our latest technology has surpassed the capabilities of 4G networks, limiting the opportunities for improvement available to all industries. As 5G continues to roll out will see the next leap in society, transforming all sectors for the better.
One particular industry that could see major change through 5G is our healthcare system. Despite the recent discredited movements trying to spread fear on 5G deployments as a health concern, 5G has the potential to dramatically change our well-being through eHealth.
5G is an opportunity to upgrade our current healthcare system into something much more, reliable, accessible, and convenient for both our healthcare professionals and patients who rely on them.
Here are 6 ways that 5G will support a better healthcare system and better health for all.
1. Home Healthcare and Telemedicine
Canadians are lucky to have free healthcare, but there’s also a major drawback to it – the waiting times. Getting to see your doctor or specialist can be a long process, having you book your appointment weeks or even months in advance.
In Canada, specialist physicians reported a median waiting time of 20.9 weeks from the referral of a general practitioner to the completion of the treatment during 2019.
With advancements in modern technology and better management practices, we now have the opportunity to decrease these wait times. Although it’s not the complete answer to the problem, telemedicine can help reduce this problem.
Telemedicine allows healthcare professionals to assess, diagnose, and treat patients from a distance using laptops, cell phones, and other telecommunicational devices. With telemedicine, patients don’t have to go to their healthcare professional as much because diagnosis and other certain treatments can be done remotely. One popular way of providing telemedicine is through online video chat.
There are many benefits to telemedicine for patients including:
• Reduced wait times
• No travel to the specialist (Major benefit to those in rural areas)
• Less time away from work
• Decreased chances of cross-exposure for patients
But there are benefits for healthcare professionals as well:
• Reduced costs
• Reduced no-shows and cancelled appointments
• Improved efficacy allowing professionals to see more patients
However, to make telemedicine possible, it requires high quality and real-time secured networks. Currently, telemedicine is subject to our wireless network’s limited capacity reducing the opportunities that patients and healthcare professionals have today.
With 5G’s high-bandwidth, low-latency, and high data rates, telemedicine could become much more accessible, easing the difficulties between professionals and patients from both sides.
2. Emergency Response Care
Designed to provide care outside of the traditional doctor’s office or regional hospital, emergency response care has played a major part in our healthcare system providing patients with medical treatment as they are transported to your local hospital.
As 5G continues to roll out across the globe, EMTs will be provided with new gear and technologies to help patients in emergency response care.
For example, 5G could soon support body cameras on emergency responders and “5G Ambulances” allowing them to communicate with specialized doctors in real-time. The doctors can then guide EMTs through procedures as they are being transported to a hospital.
With the assistance of a specialist, general practitioners now have access to vast amounts of information, allowing them to provide higher quality treatment to specific injuries not taught to a general EMT.
This is especially beneficial to EMTs and patients in rural areas where access to a local hospital could be a few hours away.
5G is a necessity to make these high-bandwidth and low-latency 2-way videos possible.
3. Artificial Intelligence – Diagnosing and Treatment Planning
AI and machine learning are currently being used to diagnose and decide on the best treatments for patients. By automating health specialists’ tasks, patients are provided with more accurate diagnosis and treatment plans compared to that by a human.
As an example, AI is currently being used to identify various types of tumours in patients. By analyzing more samples than a pathologist sees in their lifetime, an AI built algorithm can accurately cut down misdiagnosis rates. In one study, an algorithm found that 12% of brain tumours had been misdiagnosed by pathologists.
Since AI requires large amounts of data for real-time learning and processing, 5G’s large bandwidth and data transferring speeds are needed to support future use of AI as a diagnosis and treatment tool.
4. Transmitting Large Data Files
Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM) files are a standard format for medical professionals to view, store, retrieve, and share medical images. Within DICOM files, patient information and images are provided to inform specialists about a patient’s current health.
The problem with DICOM files, however, is the size and how long they take to transfer to a specialist. The average patient’s DICOM file is large due to images such as MRIs or CT Scans within it.
For example, a single CT scan can take up to 35MB of storage.
With 5G’s high-speed network, health professionals don’t have to worry about an unsuccessful transfer and can send files at a much faster rate. This reduces wait time for treatments while increasing the number of patients that health professionals can see within a day.
5. Augmented and Virtual Reality for Rehab Therapy, Training and Surgery
According to a recent study, VR/AR has been proven to reduce acute pain and potentially chronic pain in patients.
By being put into a completely different environment (fictional or not), healthcare professionals can distract patients from painful or anxiety-driven experiences. These experiences can range from something as small as getting a needle put into your arm to painful situations such as childbirth.
Using VR/AR, healthcare professionals can improve a patient’s health quicker, minimize their pain, and reduce the time they spend in the hospital.
Doctors and medical students also use VR to simulate operations allowing them to practice before doing the real surgery.
However, VR for hospital and therapeutic use is quite expensive today. With the current network technology available now, VR is wired to ensure low latency, resulting in a fully immersive experience and no lagging. Because of this, thousands of dollars are spent on high-grade PCs with the right amount of hardware to support it. The wired headset also lacks the mobility needed to give patients a fully mobile experience.
With 5G, VR and AR treatments can become wireless, allowing for full mobility and reduced hardware costs while maintaining the low latency and data transferring speeds needed.
6. IoT Devices for Real-Time Health Monitoring
IoT health devices such as heart-rate monitors and fitness trackers have become quite popular over the past decade giving us the ability to monitor our fitness, food intake, sleep and general health through our smartphones.
So, what would happen if our doctors could use this information to track our health too?
Well, it’s becoming quite possible.
Using similar IoT devices, you could soon send over general health data in real-time like average heart rate, blood pressure, body fat percentage and much more.
What’s more interesting, however, is that your doctor could also track and analyze numerous health conditions using IoT devices such as glucose monitoring, cancer treatment, asthma, coagulation, and possibly depression.
Because of this, you don’t have to go to your local hospital or clinic as much simply because you can send your health data from home. Your doctor now has accurate and up to date information and can give you a health diagnosis in real-time if needed.
Currently, this isn’t quite possible though. Our modern 4G LTE networks aren’t able to handle this amount of data being transmitted due to its slower speeds and sometimes poor connection. For health professionals to monitor our health in real-time, 5G’s high-speed and high-frequency network is needed to transfer this information reliably at low-data rates.
5G for a Stronger Healthcare System
As 5G rolls out, it’s almost impossible to foresee all the future opportunities available to the healthcare industry.
Innovators are continuing to identify and solve problems using 5G as a supporting network, creating new tech solutions that will change both the way we do business and our quality of life. Harnessing the power of 5G has the potential to completely change the way our healthcare system functions benefiting both our health professionals and patients in need.
As for right now, we’re only at the beginning.
Interested in seeing how 5G and other Next Generation Networks are changing the future of the Canadian economy?