Opinion: 5G’s role in transforming healthcare

The next generation of mobile network technology will help to drive a transformation in healthcare with remote monitoring providing accessibility, proactive treatment, and reduced waiting times.

Wearable technology provides a method of keeping track of health conditions and it’s already being used in both hospitals and at home. Most of these devices, however, must be synced when in range of a network or manually checked by a professional by attending appointments in person  which can be difficult  in particular for those with disabilities.

There are several reasons why today’s networks are unsuitable for medical use; power consumption, lack of coverage, bandwidth, and latency. Fortunately, 5G aims to tackle all these problems as it’s being designed with the IoT in mind. If these problems are solved, 5G could be key in helping to alleviate the pressure on national healthcare systems, like we're seeing with the NHS in the UK.

Waiting times in the NHS are now at a record high with over 10 percent now waiting longer than 18 weeks for non-emergency appointments, and the percentage of patients in A&E waiting longer than the four-hour maximum target is also increasing. While it will take other measures – like sufficient funding – to help meet the latter target, 5G can help decrease waiting times by enabling remote appointments.

Remote appointments will allow people to get advice from their doctors wherever they are, at a time which is convenient to both the doctor and patient. There will be less missed appointments from bad traffic conditions or forgetfulness because a simple notification on a patient’s smartphone could have them connect in seconds. Rather than sit idle in a waiting room, patients can get on with their daily lives until the doctor is ready.

Wearables, meanwhile, can report back health information to doctors and attempt to prevent serious health conditions before they develop. If a sudden issue occurs, such as a heart attack, an emergency vehicle could be deployed, the hospital notified to prepare for the patient’s arrival, and loved ones notified. This will have the biggest impact on helping people who are alone at the time, but it also provides a much quicker and more efficient system even for those who are with someone.

The aforementioned scenarios require confidence in a reliable and fast connection which 5G is set to provide. As with any new technology development, consumers will take some time to understand the potential of new innovations. In a recent Ericsson ConsumerLab report, 39 percent of chronic patients prefer online consultations to face-to-face meetings, while close to two in three consumers say wearables that monitor and administer medication are important to better manage chronic ailments and will lead to reduced visits to the doctor.

5G has the potential to have a significant impact on healthcare to help alleviate the kind of pressures we’re seeing on services like the NHS. Along with other developments, such as wearables, future patients can be treated as quickly and efficiently as possible. To really unlock the potential of these innovations, however, it will take cooperation with regulators to ensure data is accessible to those who need it, but secure from others.

What are your thoughts on 5G’s role in healthcare? Let us know in the comments.

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