When it comes to what 5G can do for healthcare, sometimes imagination and innovation aren't quite as far apart. The benefits bestowed by speed make it possible to overcome many barriers to providing quality healthcare; however, there is going to be struggle along with success.
“We need an underlying network that can power the speed of connection with the breadth of data,” said Robin Braun, Global Storage CIO for Healthcare at Dell EMC. “5G promises to provide that infrastructure and push smart devices and decisions from core to the edge, creating secure, smarter data streams, and enabling greater personalization.”
As more healthcare agencies adopt new technologies, the potential of 5G expands healthcare's capabilities. For telehealth, the faster connection means high-quality video enabling patients and care providers to connect more quickly and clearly. To do so, this means there must be 5G network coverage both in urban environments and rural areas where patients might live.
The ever-expanding area of the internet of medical things (IoMT) is also impacted by the introduction of 5G. Remote monitoring through various wearables and devices means that clinicians can keep an eye on a patients’ vital signs, medication adherence, and other information that can be valuable for patient care.
Here, the problem lies with the capacity of the network to handle the data. A faster 5G network will ensure a more reliable connection for the data transfers that workers need to make expedient health care decisions regarding a remotely located client.
5G is also critical for transmitting large medical images, facilitate faster downloads, and possibly make way for imaging devices like Xrays and MRIs to work through wifi. The network can also play a support role in augmented and virtual reality tools for medical training purposes.
The potential for robotic surgery has generated optimism about 5G’s role in the future. It’s a way to remove distance from the equation for patients and their physicians. In fact, the first operation of its kind took place in China when a surgeon in the city of Sanya surgically implanted a stimulation device in the brain of a Parkinson’s patient almost 1,900 miles away in Beijing.
Perhaps one of the most significant hurdles beyond full network coverage is the devices used every day. Most importantly, 4G phones are not compatible with the 5G network, and unclear advertising about the network's capabilities means that hospitals need to inform themselves and assess the existing infrastructure before making decisions about implementing 5G-reliant technology.
Making the transition to 5G is “not a light switch” explains Craig Richardville, SVP and CIO of SCL Health in Denver. “It needs to be done in a methodical way. That includes upgrading technology and applications to either speak 5G or disabling the [legacy] technology piece by piece.”