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The Impact of 5G in Indian Healthcare

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Aditya Patel, Head of Data Science, Stasis highlights how the 5G rollout will positively affect healthcare delivery but will come with potential data security threat. He throws light on how to address these challenges

A recent news article suggested that the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will come out with a roadmap for the adoption of the fifth generation of mobile telephony in India by June this year. A global 5G roll out is scheduled to happen in 2020 and India will focus on being a forerunner in its application across different sectors. 5G internet has enlarged to cover a wide spectrum of devices, not only smartphones. It will add a push to technologies such as augmented reality, Internet of Things (IoT), and virtual reality, along with sectors such as robotics, healthcare, smart cities, and even our households. It is said to be 10 times faster than 4G with network flexibility, security, lowered energy consumption as well as a low ping rate (necessary for data intensive functions such as the usage of AR and VR). This ultra-high-speed internet will make changes to the way we live by affecting nearly all aspects of life. Over the next few paragraphs, we shall delve deeper into its impact on Indian healthcare.

5G in healthcare

The Indian healthcare industry is a constantly innovating to keep itself abreast of the latest technology trends. In its quest to better itself and provide the best services to its patients, it is no surprise that hospitals are using the internet to aid with its functions. The vigorous use of Wi-Fi services and Internet of Things (IoT) has made its mark with the introduction of connected healthcare through better equipment, better monitoring and tracking abilities. In fact, the global Internet of Things (IoT) healthcare market is expected to hit $410 billion in 2022. A report by Berkeley’s Hass School of Business, predicts that by 2035, the economy of services in 5G will reach $12 trillion, out of which $1.1 trillion will revolve around global healthcare.

Digital integration in healthcare

Faster connection speeds are already transforming doctor-patient interactions by integrating electronic communication into medical care. The introduction of 5G, will bring in new possibilities of accomplishing digital networking and upgrade health care experiences. The amalgamation of Massive Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), and mission critical services, will deliver holistic and personalised patient care. It will help implement a proactive approach to healthcare wherein the possibility of a medical problem occurring is detected even before the first symptom appears and is terminated. This is the exact opposite to the current reactive approach where the treatment is started after the symptoms have already begun to appear. Precious time that is wasted in trying to figure out what a patient could be suffering from is saved, thereby preventing the possibility of a major problem from even occurring in a faster and more appropriate way.

Decentralisation of healthcare and centralisation of patient data

For a country like India, most of the healthcare facilities are in the urban areas. There is a huge migration of patients from non-urban areas to get themselves treated in these facilities. To reduce the burden on urban infrastructures, there is a need for secondary and tertiary units to be set up in other semi-urban and rural areas so that patients originating there can get enhanced treatment at the source itself. With connected towns and villages, remote medical training of professionals and diagnosis of patients are strong possibilities which will deliver proactive and faster treatment. Decentralisation of healthcare to local centres, powered by technology, will improve efficiency and address resource scarcity. Additionally, we have also noticed the emergence of home healthcare which will receive a new push with the 5G roll out. As medical care reaches the comfort of people’s homes, wearables that monitor and administer medication will take lead.

Access to patient data is considered important to improve healthcare. The lack of electronic medical records impedes medical delivery and this issue will be addressed as collation of data becomes easy through connected medical devices. For the transformation of patient applications to happen, patient data will need to be stored centrally, effectively turning hospitals into data centres and doctors into data scientists. Patients will get online access to a central repository of medical records to help them easily manage the quality and efficiency of their care. 5G will allow a better access to predictive algorithms that could rank patient data in the order of emergency with greater accuracy and ease.

Addressing security issues

With the 5G rollout, IOT, telemedicine, and new healthcare services will positively affect healthcare delivery around the world and in India. While these solutions will be great, it will come with potential data security threats. In India, digitisation of medical records has led to the distribution of patient data to not only doctors, but also others such as authorised employees, agents and contractors. The sector has already been targeted by cyber criminals in the past and the same will only increase. A few ways in which hospitals can mitigate this threat will be by:

Prevention of threats: By minimising the basic issues that account for most security incidents. The usage of firewalls to protect the network, and access controls to minimize user-based risk. Intrusion detection and prevention tools for blocking basic 5G security threats should be considered.
Detection of anomalies: Using packet capture, big data, and machine learning to identify threats that are missed by basic filters. When embedded into network switches and routers, it is far more effective, as it turns those devices into 5G security sensors.
Fixing advanced malware: Going beyond signature-based tools to spot the attacks designed to evade basic filters. Behavior-based checks on endpoints — possibly using sandboxing — are important. Once a threat is detected, all instances of it will have to be removed on the network.

When such measures seamlessly integrate with existing technologies, then the stakeholders can rest assured that their data is in safe hands.

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