How 5G is Transforming the Healthcare and Medical Device Industry
Life Sciences | 7 min READ
    
5G Healthcare
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated investments in healthcare technology — $9.1 billion in 2020, which is 19% higher than 2019. Simultaneously, according to Gartner, the pandemic has fueled the rise of 5G network infrastructure worldwide by 39% in 2021. These numbers demonstrate how a willingness to accept digital solutions coupled with rapid technological advancements and the number of IoT devices or connected devices is the key to driving digital transformation in the healthcare and medical device industry.
John Danese
John Danese

Industry Director

Life Sciences

Birlasoft

Shirish Sahay
Shirish Sahay

VP & Sales Head

Manufacturing & Life Sciences, Europe

Birlasoft

 
5G is at the forefront of this transformation, and its use cases in healthcare are already promising. According to IDC, 5G helped local authorities in Wuhan, the pandemic's epicenter, connect their medical devices and staff on a centralized network with high-speed data transfers and real-time, high-quality internet connectivity.
In Milan, dubbed as the 5G capital of Europe, Vodafone set up 5G connected ambulances to help paramedics stay in touch with the emergency management center and doctors at all times. As a result, the hospital staff is equipped with patient information and symptoms beforehand, which helps them chart the action in advance of a patient’s arrival.
These are just a few potential use cases of 5G networks in healthcare.
5G is creating ripples because of its potential to lower latency, enable high-speed data transfers, and save costs by $94 billion for the healthcare industry by 2030. Let's explore the importance of 5G in the healthcare industry, followed by its most promising healthcare use cases, from remote monitoring to augmented reality in patient care.
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The Need for 5G in Healthcare
Higher Reliability and Security
5G networks can provide 99.999% reliability, and that's one the biggest benefits of 5G — guaranteed service with ubiquitous coverage. Proper and timely data transmission is crucial for all real-time 5G medical applications in healthcare, such as remote patient monitoring, Augmented Reality (AR)-assisted robotic surgeries, and connected ambulances.
Additionally, 5G networks are more secure than their older wireless counterparts with advanced encryption protocols, better privacy protection, software-defined infrastructure, and a sophisticated authentication framework.
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Better Performance
5G networks offer high-resolution bandwidths and reduce latency (1 ms or less) by minimizing the delays and increasing data transfer speeds — from 100 Mbps to 20Gbps. Enhanced network performance is crucial for real-time data transfers. For instance, if a remote consultation with a patient is riddled with lags, doctors cannot diagnose health conditions properly — a delay in arm movement could be a symptom of an issue with the latency of teleconsultation technology. Better performance is also a prerequisite for applications based on augmented reality.
Improved Capacity
4G networks can only handle a few thousand connected devices. However, 5G networks are equipped with a capacity of up to 1 million connected devices per square kilometer. Such improved capacity is essential to support an entire healthcare ecosystem of connected devices transmitting large files in real-time. For instance, a connected ambulance brings together paramedics, ambulance operators, trauma center coordinators, the hospital staff, and the various patient monitoring devices. 5G connectivity is essential to support lightning-fast transfers of medical records and high-quality video calls in such an environment.
5G Use Cases in Healthcare
As we've already mentioned, there are a plethora of 5G use cases in healthcare. However, the biggest benefit is its ability to facilitate high-quality teleconsultations and medical procedures for patients regardless of their locations. So, let's look at some of the top use cases.
  1. 5G and Telemedicine
  2. Augmented Reality In Healthcare
  3. Clinical Collaboration and Communication
  4. Computer-Aided Diagnostics – Medical Imaging
  5. Connected Ambulances
  6. Medical Sensors
  7. Remote Patient Monitoring
  8. Remote Surgery Using 5G
#1 5G and Telemedicine
It facilitates telemedicine, especially in rural areas, warrants a network that can support real-time, high-resolution calls without lags or jitters and high-speed transfers of large files. The low latency and larger bandwidths of 5G networks can enhance the quality of telehealth consultations, reduce costs for healthcare facilities, and improve the overall patient experience.
Moreover, when faced with pandemics, telemedicine is the safest route, as it eliminates visits to a doctor's office and connects patients in remote pockets of the world with specialists and well-equipped medical facilities.
#2 Augmented Reality In Healthcare
Augmented reality has several applications in healthcare, from remote monitoring to surgeries, thanks to 5G. Using AR in a 4G environment is mired with lag times, usually 20-50 milliseconds long. These lags lead to motion sickness over an extended period as there's a mismatch between visual recognition and brain processing. The greater performance, bandwidth, and reliability of 5G networks overcome these limitations.
An example of AR in healthcare is Vodafone's AR HoloLens glasses, which help paramedics check out medical records and access critical information on patient handling and treatment. So, if the patient is a pregnant mother in labor, the AR glasses provide the ambulance staff with information such as the right questions to ask and the steps to follow en-route to the hospital.
#3 Clinical Collaboration and Communication
It's not uncommon for doctors to wait for hours to receive medical imaging and other lab tests run by their colleagues at the same facility. Such lengthy wait times, coupled with a lack of collaboration and communication, slow down the speed of diagnosis and treatment, which creates an unpleasant experience for the patient, introduces risks to the quality of care and incurs enormous costs for the hospitals.
A hospital-wide 5G platform can solve the problem by letting lab technicians transmit large files within seconds without compromising the quality. Such a platform also connects the devices within the hospital, from medical equipment to smartphones and tablets used by the hospital staff, making data easily accessible in real-time.
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#4 Computer-Aided Diagnostics – Medical Imaging
Medical imaging files such as CT scans or MRIs are very large and take a long time to transfer. Using 5G, these transfers can be virtually instantaneous, allowing doctors to diagnose their patients faster and quickly provide comprehensive treatment. 5G can also facilitate robot-assisted remote imaging, which can be ground-breaking when treating patients suffering from highly infectious diseases like COVID-19.
5G can also help doctors convert MRIs into rich holograms and project them onto the patient while consulting with technicians like radiologists and other specialists. These methods help doctors visualize their patients' conditions better, eliminate guesswork, and provide faster, more accurate diagnoses.
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#5 5G Connected Ambulance
With 5G connectivity, EMTs in an ambulance can share a patient's symptoms, vitals, and medical records with the hospital staff in real-time. In addition, they can use 4K video calls to inform the doctors of the situation and help them prepare appropriately in advance, especially when facing unexpected situations from accidents, natural disasters, or pandemics. Doctors can even advise ambulance staff on the proper treatment course and monitor the entire status remotely.
Such real-time data exchange, coupled with the efficient use of time and medical resources, reduces ambulance handover times, increases emergency room turnover, and enhances the patient's overall experience.
#6 Medical Sensors
The medical device industry has made significant strides in developing wearable devices fitted with wireless technologies, sensors, built-in GPS, and smartphone compatibility. For instance, Fitbit smartwatches can monitor SpO2 (blood oxygen), pulse/heart rate, skin temperature, ECG, and stress. More such technologies are cropping up to facilitate remote patient care and monitoring, increasing the patient's engagement with their healthcare and treatment.
Medical practitioners can use smartphone cameras and their microphones of their patients to detect melanoma, analyze patient injuries, assess coughs, monitor skin infections or eye problems. In addition, wireless sensors can assist in administering and monitoring medication and assessing rehabilitation.
#7 Remote Patient Monitoring
The advances in medical devices and wearable tech also facilitate remote patient monitoring. Patient homes can be equipped with the right technologies to remotely monitor their vitals, symptoms, and healing over low-latency, high-bandwidth 5G networks. Such networks enable anything from live-streaming patients and their conditions to monitoring their vitals using the medical devices in real-time.
As a result, hospitals can reduce their overall costs and accommodate larger patients by quickly discharging patients in recovery and monitoring their vitals remotely.
#8 Remote Surgery 5G
Barring the largest multispecialty hospitals in metropolitan cities, most hospitals aren't equipped with experienced surgeons for every niche. In such cases, on-field doctors consult with the experts using video and audio. However, 5G connectivity can take things a step further by relaying real-time information from an ongoing surgery to the experts while they advise the surgical team during the operation. For instance, surgical microscopes with 4K displays can transmit high-quality visuals to the consulting surgeons, besides live-streaming the entire surgery with audio. Armed with such data, the consulting experts can provide better supervision and guidance.
The Future of 5G and Healthcare
The 5G healthcare market is projected to reach $3.67 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 76.3%, according to the research firm MarketsandMarkets. 5G connectivity ushers in the era of ultra-reliable, low-latency communications, with near-real-time data transfers, substantial cost savings, and the ability to connect millions of IoT devices.
Moreover, 5G networks facilitate access to a broader base of patients, especially in remote areas, resulting in almost a billion extra patients getting treated globally by 2030. The future of healthcare lies in joining the 5G revolution. The pandemic exposed the perils of not embracing technological advances. For the industry to stay resilient during the next black swan event, digital transformation powered by 5G will be mission-critical.
 
 
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