5G and Healthcare

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5G and Healthcare

Background:

Cellular networks are entering a new digital era of connectivity. In 2019, cellular phone companies started the deployment of 5G, the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks [1]. By using higher-frequency radio waves, a 5G network, in comparison to 3G and 4G, will have significantly increased bandwidth, and with lower latency (the response time between sending a data request to the network and receiving the data) would have the capability to deliver a more stable, reliable, faster data transmission, and significantly increased simultaneous device connectivity. The 5G Economy Study by Qualcomm reports that 5G will drove global growth. By 2035, it will help achieve $13.2 trillion in global economic output, create 23.2 million new jobs, and add $2.1 trillion in GDP growth [2]. Besides, 5G, with its higher performance and improved efficiency, is touted to deliver a better user experience and significantly impact several industries, including healthcare.

Mobile and other connected devices are a standard in most healthcare organizations, but, since its inception, issues relating to connectivity has plagued healthcare wireless network infrastructure. Despite the slow pace of adoption of technological advancements in healthcare as compared to other industries, newer technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and wireless transmission technology is increasingly being used to meet the challenges facing healthcare and, to achieve the triple aim – improving the experience of care, improving the health of populations, and reducing per capita costs of health care. Of particular importance is the role of mobile health and telehealth, and 5G wireless networks and other emerging technologies are becoming vital tools that will empower patients and enable clinicians, to achieve better health outcomes.

Benefits of 5G in healthcare:

A 5G network will enable a speedy and reliable transfer of large data files of images from MRI and PET scans, thus reducing waiting times for patients and allowing clinicians to work more efficiently. High-quality video and the added functionality of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), with its ability to simultaneously connect a large number of medical devices, will enable organizations to streamline the process of telemedicine, teleconsultation, and remote surgery [3]. AT&T is already collaborating with VITAS Healthcare in using 5G-enabled AR and VR technology to reduce pain and anxiety for terminally ill patients in a hospice by providing calming, distracting content. Remote monitoring of health will become faster and more accurate, with real-time data availability, which will also improve the delivery of personalized preventive care [4]. 5G-incorporated wearables would also facilitate in recognizing trends early and identifying medical conditions more precisely.

Challenges of implementing 5G in healthcare:

Among the anticipated pitfalls with 5G, the main ones relate to its costs (associated with the rollout, infrastructure changes, and maintenance), its relatively smaller range (necessitating the need for a large number of antennas), coverage in rural areas, and also the concern from a proportion of the population regarding the health risks from 5G technology despite FDA's report to the contrary. Security experts are also wary of the increased data security risks associated with 5G technology. The anticipated challenges of mitigating the risks related to medical identity theft, health privacy invasion, and medical data management would be much more significant [4].

Conclusion:

Integrating 5G network technology into healthcare is much-hyped to increase patient access, improve outcomes, and enhance the efficiency of the delivery of care, and this has only grown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the surge in remote working and virtual visits. Though it will be several years before 5G networks become fully deployed, healthcare organizations would benefit by starting, if not already, to develop strategies about integrating 5G technology, with cautious optimism.

References:

  1. “5G,” Wikipedia. Oct. 27, 2020, Accessed: Oct. 27, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=5G&oldid=985658643.
  2. “What is 5G | Everything You Need to Know About 5G | 5G FAQ,” Qualcomm, Jul. 25, 2017. https://www.qualcomm.com/invention/5g/what-is-5g (accessed Oct. 27, 2020).
  3. D. Li, “5G and intelligence medicine—how the next generation of wireless technology will reconstruct healthcare?,” Precis. Clin. Med., vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 205–208, Dec. 2019, doi: 10.1093/pcmedi/pbz020.
  4. “5G in Healthcare: 7 Advantages & Disadvantages for Providers to Know.” https://hitconsultant.net/2019/07/18/5g-in-healthcare-7-advantages-disadvantages-for-providers-to-know/#.X5h_LS9h1TY (accessed Oct. 27, 2020).

Submitted by Sunil Samuel