How 5G Will Transform Healthcare

June 12, 2019 - 7 minutes read

Healthcare has plenty of room for improvement. Fortunately, 5G is on its way to revolutionize it. Whether it’s opening up data silos, connecting rural areas to better treatment options, or accelerating telehealth innovation, 5G will improve the medical industry in a myriad of ways.

Data-Fueled Disruption

Data has helped shape healthcare and medicine development for centuries. When doctors notice a pattern across patients, pharmaceutical companies see a trend in their experimental treatment groups, or a patient reports a chronic cough, data is always there to point them in the right direction.

Data has helped us solve some of humanity’s biggest medical mysteries such as how diseases spread. “When people finally understood what germs were and how they drove the spread of disease, it revolutionized healthcare,” explains Jennifer Esposito, the former Worldwide General Manager and Head of Intel’s Health and Life Sciences Group. Esposito now works as the Vice President of Magic Leap’s Health and Fitness Business Unit.

“The convergence of technology — 5G and AI and sensors — is going to create this monumental shift that will transform how you understand people’s health, how you deliver treatment, and how you expand access to care and experts,” says Esposito.

Clinical settings are some of the biggest producers of multi-variate, multi-dimensional data. We’re not talking about just numerical data here. Data generated by healthcare systems include millions of high-definition images from MRIs and CT scans, too. By 2020, it’s estimated that healthcare systems will create over 2,314 exabytes of data.

That amounts to 2.314 quadrillion gigabytes — a gargantuan, unprecedented amount of data to deal with. Fortunately, 5G can help us make sense of it all.

5G is the Only Way Forward

So, how can 5G help with healthcare’s big data problem? Well, because 5G waves are smaller, faster, and more flexible (it can leverage both low and high frequencies) than 4G LTE waves, it can carry more data without putting unnecessary strain on the rest of the network.

At the moment, Esposito says that healthcare comprises 30% of the world’s total data — and this ratio will only grow more in the near future. With technologies like 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) in tow, health systems can discover new insights from this mountain of data. In turn, hopefully, these insights and new paradigms can help medical professionals move more towards proactive and preventative use cases as opposed to the reactive treatment model in place.

5G brings the possibility of real-time patient monitoring by way of wearables. Sensor data, in general, will become more ubiquitous. Monitoring heartbeat, blood sugar, activity levels multiple times throughout the day will unlock more insights into the day-to-day health of patients.

It’ll also create more opportunities to analyze data and find trends across demographics and locations. Combining this treasure trove of data with environmental information like daily air quality or heat indexes could yield even more insights.

5G can also transmit other forms of data easily – things like voice and video chatbots will transform how patients access care, making it easier to find an available doctor to help. A surgeon across the world could even perform remote surgery in real-time with 5G.

Esposito is excited about healthcare developing alongside 5G’s rollout. She says, “The ability to leverage this network of sensors and combine it with other data from the edge as well, so you can have more of a continuous health and wellness monitoring of a patient versus an entirely reactive response to chronic conditions that may decline quickly — that’s a big deal.”

What’s Latency Gotta Do With It?

At this point, you may be wondering: How can 5G accomplish this record-breaking speed and still maintain the data’s integrity? That’s a great question! We only need one word to answer it, though: Latency.

Latency will allow rural communities to access healthcare freely; it’ll give patients who have chronic or complex issues the freedom to remotely call their doctor for advice. “In a lot of these remote scenarios, you may not be able to do much more than triage a patient and then make a decision about whether or not you need to send them elsewhere. I think these high-reliability and low-latency networks are going to enable an expansion of access to care for people who would otherwise have to travel great distances to receive it,” says Esposito.

“If you’re delivering treatments in a community hospital or more rural location that is driven by a specialist in another location, you absolutely have to rely on this low-latency connection. It needs to be real-time.” Latency reduces strain on the overall network, and less strain equals better performance. This is especially beneficial for doctors who often face scenarios where they must make a last-minute decision.

Besides this, 5G will also open up the opportunity for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) solutions to excel. 5G will enable doctors to visit patients in their homes through AR. Research shows VR is a great solution for children with autism and for patients experiencing drug abuse or mental illnesses.

University of Houston researchers studied how patients suffering from alcohol abuse were helped with VR solutions: they could practice refusing a drink in a social setting without bearing the actual consequences. This low-risk method of therapy can work wonders for patients in all walks of life.

In actual reality, these possibilities are just the tip of the iceberg. 5G will unleash a new wave of innovation in the medical space. And everyone around the world will experience benefits. What 5G applications do you think would benefit healthcare most? Let us know in the comments!

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