Giulia Besana (Research Analyst, Health Insights)

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a glimpse into how 5G networks can help the healthcare industry better deliver information and care.

What Are the Benefits of 5G in Healthcare?

5G addresses many of the emerging needs of healthcare providers for connectivity services. These are faster speeds, lower latency, increased connection density, and the ability to guarantee quality of service (QoS) needed to create new use cases.

5G can be a key connectivity enabler for smarter healthcare scenarios delivered by a combination of Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), robotics, AI, and cloud. These solutions generate high volumes of alerts and data that can overwhelm healthcare providers’ ability to use them effectively and separate the noise from the signal.

Do We Really Need It?

Recent advances in connected-health technologies have enabled healthcare providers to improve collaboration and communication and empower new care-delivery models that make access to care more convenient, such as remote patient monitoring, virtual care, robotics, and telepresence.

However, with rising overall adoption and a wave of healthcare service requests due to COVID-19, some solutions will struggle to meet the complex demands created by the volume, variety, and velocity of health information on communication networks. To ensure the smooth running of mission-critical applications and devices, more sophisticated connectivity capabilities will be needed — and 5G can help to meet some of these challenges.

The Chinese government is looking to extend the country’s 5G telematic infrastructure by promoting its application to the healthcare sector. In Wuhan, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, 5G has enabled local authorities to connect all the digital instruments of the local health system and the medical staff to the network, providing extended connectivity at very high speeds.

How Does 5G Work in Healthcare?

  • Emergency handling. Real-time exchange of data can be a key determinant in emergency situations, such as ambulance remote diagnosis and real-time health data transfer, as well as in conditions where teleconsultation is the only option (i.e. remote areas with limited health resources).
  • Outpatient management. 5G is enhancing the seamless provision of care services outside the hospital. In comparison with other connectivity services, 5G enables faster and richer data sharing, as well as more complex data processing at the edge of the network, at the point of care. This enables VR and wearable sensors to be used for home-based rehabilitation, for example, as well as video consultation and real-time transfer of images, videos, and healthcare-related information from clinical-grade devices, giving patients faster and more accurate remote diagnosis and advice.
  • Remote and extended practice. Researchers at the Technical University of Munich are testing 5G technology by equipping a test operating theater with prototypes of 5G-capable access points and terminals. Imagine undergoing surgery in London with a surgeon operating real time from New York. The speed and data capacity of 5G can enable remote care and treatment, combining tools and devices (e.g., robotics, IoMT) that effectively support smooth communication and procedures performed in real time, regardless of the location.
  • Site connectivity and management. The value of clinical collaboration and communication within and outside the healthcare ecosystem has become essential to tackle the pandemic. 5G can be a game changer for healthcare enterprise services that need to support clinical collaboration and communications that are richer in content and need a reliable infrastructure for mission-critical applications and devices.
  • Training and education. Skills building in the medical arena can potentially be enhanced through 5G by providing greater access to simulation activities by including VR and haptics in the education process and providing realistic, real-time remote tuition at the highest resolution.

As the number of connected devices and networks grows, 5G will bring both benefits and challenges in terms of network and data security. This will make it essential for healthcare organizations to evaluate risks and vulnerabilities around the availability of and access to patients’ health data.

So, before embarking on a 5G project, healthcare organizations should evaluate applications, use cases, and ecosystem requirements against the technology solution plan, as well as current connectivity and security management capabilities.

How Do I Help My Business?

As part of our ongoing program of 5G research and analysis, IDC has published a series of reports that provide a detailed breakdown of how 5G can be applied to develop new services targeted at five different vertical sectors:

Automotive

Energy

Manufacturing

Healthcare

Government

A sixth report, covering the media sector, will be published shortly.

 

Contact us if you would like to know more about 5G and how we can help you to turn the capabilities of 5G into new services in healthcare. Silvia Piai

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