A complex regulatory environment and deeply embedded legacy systems traditionally have made the healthcare industry a laggard when it comes to adopting new technologies. But the proverbial floodgates opened over the past several years, with technological innovation transforming care and transforming lives.
Healthcare technology is about to get another shot in the arm.
This year will bring us the fifth generation of mobile internet connectivity, also known as 5G. The latest generation should deliver significant improvements in care quality and patient experiences — as well as lower costs and more operational efficiencies.
5G will usher in an era of personalized, self-directed healthcare, empowering patients with the ability to manage their health and medical conditions better.
Ultimately, the goals of healthcare aren’t limited to finding better treatment solutions; medical practitioners also strive to build preventative practices that preclude treatment. 5G will make those goals a reality.
Already, wearable technologies consisting of continuous monitoring and sensory processing devices are helping patients achieve wellness and independence. We’ve only scratched the surface of their potential, in part because of the limitations of 4G. One of the biggest challenges that IoT solutions face is slow network speeds because of congestion.
Providers are interfacing with many patients each day, and transmitting large amounts of data can be an incredibly slow process on existing networks. Wearable devices require consistent, uniform, and uninterrupted connectivity to be viable, and 5G will provide this connectivity an unprecedented level.
5G technology has the potential to help healthcare organizations meet the growing demands of IoT-focused transformation by providing a pathway for more significant amounts of data to be shared — faster — across networks.
AT&T claims its live 5G network recently eclipsed the 1gigabits-per-second mark, and the technology theoretically should be able to achieve download speeds of 10 Gbps with one millisecond of latency. Compare that to 4G speeds that average 15 megabits per second with a latency of 50 ms.
But speed is only part of 5G technology, which is superior to 4G in every sense. For starters, its lower latency will allow for new and more advanced IoT applications that require rapid responsiveness, such as remote equipment control.
Moreover, 5G will revolutionize data management. The technology can handle large and vital data sets more efficiently, enabling the consolidation of information into one platform. 5G networks also have super high bandwidths, which will allow more people to transmit larger files without slowing things down.
In the near future, remote monitoring tools powered by 5G will enable doctors to not only keep an eye on local patients but also to attend to anyone around the world without having to leave the office.
According to a study by Market Research Future, the telemedicine market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of about 17% through 2023. Growth will primarily be due to government-driven healthcare initiatives and the demand for better healthcare in rural areas. Unlike its predecessor, 5G will be able to support the high-resolution video requirements of telehealth appointments.
This means patients will have more accessible healthcare, including access to specialists who might otherwise be unavailable.
5G technology will allow medical professionals to quickly transmit massive files from X-ray machines, MRIs, and other imaging machines. With immediate access to substantial data files, the people — and machines — charged with making critical decisions about patient health will be able to make them faster and with more information.
Already, we’ve seen that AI is capable of fully diagnosing patients and recommending proper treatment plans. It also can predict possible complications in outpatients, which allows care providers to put preventative measures in place.
But AI systems need a massive amount of data to learn and improve in real time, and that data typically comes from disparate sources and is delivered via mobile devices. In many cases, 4G hasn’t been able to support this continuous flow of data reliably — that won’t be a problem for 5G.
Still, none of this is to say that every healthcare problem will disappear thanks to the next generation of connectivity. Seamless integration is far from guaranteed, but it’s absolutely necessary if digital processes will directly affect the health of individuals.
Increasingly widespread concerns about patient privacy and the potential negative impact of healthcare data breaches are well-founded, and they aren’t going anywhere. Security is imperative, particularly when healthcare practitioners are transmitting medical data.
Implementing new technology is also expensive. With the introduction of 5G, old devices and infrastructure elements may be rendered incompatible. Replacing those devices will be costly for providers. Those issues will need to be ironed out with urgency, though.
Dr. Joseph Kvedar, VP of connected health at Partners HealthCare, nicely summed up the implications of 5G on patient care in an interview with HealthTech Insider: “If you put in an Amazon order and it doesn’t happen, the world doesn’t stop. But if it’s your pacemaker, that’s a different matter.”
While 5G technology has the potential to improve the way we deliver healthcare, providers must be incredibly strategic about how they use this new technology.