Among the latest trends in technology is the continued buildout of 5G networks by major wireless carriers. Cellular has often been seen as a consumer-focused technology but as 5G coverage increases, it will benefit not only the consumer market, but business sectors as well. Already, the major smartphone makers have launched 5G-enabled devices anticipating widespread the availability of 5G service that will deliver unprecedented network speed and bandwidth – up to 100 times faster than 4G networks – and create more opportunities for high-bandwidth and real-time applications and services.
The healthcare industry, which has long been strained due to inefficiencies and lack of access, is ripe for new ways to leverage technology to positively impact the entire healthcare delivery process. While some connected health applications have seen significant growth during the past year out of necessity during the pandemic, 5G can help solidify its role in healthcare delivery. Its emergence is poised to help improve connectivity for healthcare applications, increase the use of connected devices for healthcare delivery, and enable increased communication between patients and providers.
Virtual Care Access
Patients, particularly in rural areas, can have better telehealth experiences – many may even have access to them for the first time in areas where broadband access is currently poor or limited – leveraging 5G bandwidth and new smartphones and tablets. With improved connectivity, patients may experience better, more efficient and uninterrupted sessions – without screen freezes and dropped calls – with physicians, therapists, or other specialists. Similarly, 5G networks and devices extend the same high-quality connectivity to providers, who are able to extend their remote care and on-call capabilities.
5G also holds promise for mobile medical professionals, like first responders, who can access connected health platforms from mobile devices at the point of care. The improved network technology with compatible devices – whether specifically designed medical devices or standard smartphones – can enable instant, high-quality connectivity between mobile teams and staff in hospitals or other provider facilities for immediate diagnoses and instructions, rather than having to wait for arrival at healthcare facilities. Better mobile connectivity can also allow mobile medical professionals to consult physicians remotely to determine whether conditions are severe enough to warrant hospital care, or if home care or waiting for an available appointment with a PCP is appropriate.
Remote Patient Monitoring Devices
One of the benefits of remote monitoring is real-time data that allows physicians to make faster decisions. Improved network speeds can reduce data bottlenecks on legacy networks that can cause delays in decision making, allowing doctors to react more quickly to changes in patient readings, potentially avoiding complications. As more areas get 5G access, more patients will have access to remote patient monitoring services and patient-centric devices, reducing their need for repeated office visits, providing better and more frequent health information to inform decision-making, and allowing doctors to operate more efficiently.
MRIs and other medical images are usually very large files, which need to be sent to primary care providers and specialists. Under less than ideal network conditions, those transfers can take a long time – sometimes the transmissions even fail – causing delays in diagnoses and treatment. With expanded speed and bandwidth of 5G networks, these images can be sent much more quickly and reliably, expediting care delivery and allowing physicians to treat more patients in the same amount of time.
With the increased bandwidth of 5G networks, healthcare providers can leverage a wide range of connected devices, sensors, and applications across their care networks – anywhere healthcare services are needed. In addition to the immediate benefits of increased access and efficiency, the long-term impact of more connected health devices and a mobile network that can support them is more data. As more devices are introduced in the healthcare environment, they will generate more data, which, in turn, can create more opportunities to leverage artificial intelligence and analytics to improve efficiency and health outcomes through a smarter, connected healthcare ecosystem.
While connected health has seen growth, especially this year, the industry’s ability to fully capitalize on available sensors, devices, and applications can increase with access to new 5G networks. New technology, connected health applications, and smart healthcare devices can collectively drive a new age of more intelligent, data-driven, patient-centric healthcare.
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