How 5G adoption can help telemedicine tackle healthcare challenges
Being at the cusp of technological innovations, healthcare is witnessing the inception of an array of cutting-edge technologies that continue to improve care, and change the way care is delivered. Connectivity, now more than ever, is emerging as a crucial technology for the healthcare industry, providing equitable care to all who need or depend on it.
Speaking of connectivity, the initiation of 5G technology has turned out to be extremely beneficial for the healthcare sector, helping the industry benefit from security-rich, superior connectivity to address the present challenges as well as unlock new possibilities. A Gartner report shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rise of 5G infrastructure throughout the world by 39 percent in 2021.
Telemedicine coupled with enhanced connectivity has the power to increase the value of virtual interaction by allowing for higher resolution video and images. Patients can video chat with physicians from their homes, and healthcare professionals are leaving the clipboards at bay for more efficacious digital data management systems. However, this is just the start of a bigger transformation.
Better care for patients
5G in healthcare isn’t just about improved security, data transfer and connectivity. All these benefits can add up to enhance the quality of care not only for telemedicine providers but the patients, most importantly.
The low latency and increased bandwidth of 5G allow for higher resolution images and video that can significantly increase the value and quality of virtual interactions. This reduces the patient's need to visit a hospital when unsafe or unnecessary and greatly benefits those who don't have easy access to a hospital or medical facility.
In India, where 73 percent of the population resides in rural areas, which have scarce quality healthcare facilities, telemedicine coupled with 5G technology can connect rural/remote areas to specialist doctors and healthcare services in a more robust way. This, in turn, can also reduce the over-burden on secondary and tertiary care hospitals and allow them to focus on critical and specialised care.
The amalgamation of 5G connectivity with the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) can further open up new opportunities to deliver personalised and holistic patient care. It can help healthcare professionals adopt a proactive approach toward healthcare, thus reducing the possibility of a medical problem occurring.
Wearable devices have already become a critical component of effective healthcare delivery. 5G-enabled wearable devices fitted with sensors, smartphone compatibility and built-in GPS can help healthcare professionals monitor pulse/heart rate, SpO2 (blood oxygen), skin temperature, stress and ECG in real-time. Apart from facilitating better patient care, such a preventive approach can be a critical part of the population health approach in the country, aiding in the detection and prevention of serious chronic diseases. Also, another big factor is that while 5G can support nearly a million devices per square kilometre, 4G can support only 4,000 devices.
In an industry where every single second matters, the 5G connected ambulance is another feature that can help to connect patients, ambulance staff and remote medical experts in real-time. Apart from potentially transforming healthcare, the connected ambulance allows the doctor to recognise vital signs, easily access medical records virtually, and ultimately respond much faster, leading to better outcomes.
Apollo Hospitals recently launched the 5G connected ambulance that comes equipped with onboard cameras, camera-based headgear, and bodycams for paramedic staff—all connected to the 5G network. Using cutting-edge technology, healthcare personnel within the ambulance can access and follow expert consultations to diagnose and treat patients quickly within the 'golden hour' to increase the chances of survival as well as reduce the after-effects of the trauma.
Managing data and security
As far as telemedicine is concerned, one of its key aspects is the sharing of vast amounts of information or data between healthcare professionals. With a high-speed 5G network connectivity, medical personnel can reliably share large data files consisting of medical imagery. This can improve access as well as the quality of care. In some cases, the files can contain up to 1GB of data, which becomes difficult to share quickly over the existing networks. The file may contain life-saving information and every second wasted can make a difference between the life and death of a patient. In critical scenarios, 5G can turn out to be a boon, leading to faster, better and enhanced remote consultations.
The other big advantage of 5G is that it supports enhanced privacy and security. Since healthcare data may contain personal and highly sensitive data, 5G can provide a solid security foundation for sharing vital patient data remotely.
New avenues of medical innovation
Apart from enhancing the medical processes of the present day, 5G technology has the ability to support newer technologies for telemedicine and the overall healthcare industry. For instance, XR-powered tools could be utilised in medical training, teaching, or even virtual therapy. By using haptic feedback gloves, healthcare professionals can receive immersive visualisation and training for complex procedures.
On top of that, AI-enabled apps and wearable devices powered by 5G can apply ML (machine learning) to health-related analysis of data in various scenarios—from emergency medical attention to medical diagnosis.
IoMT and AI-enabled data analysis can also be used to streamline health monitoring for patients as well as doctors—creating an entirely connected hospital.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)