Ravi Ramaswamy, Senior Director, Philips Innovation Campus shares his opinion on what all healthcare sector can gain out of the 5G deployment
5G is the next generation mobile broadband that the world is talking about and waiting for. Recall the telecom revolution that mobile technology brought in over the copper cable networks in the early 90s. 5G is expected to bring in a similar transformation in the way we are going to communicate and interact – irrespective of the domain. It is expected to bring in exponentially faster speeds as also reduced latency. In perspective, it’s a 100 times faster than a typical cellular connection. It will be able to interconnect significantly larger number of devices of varying functionalities: light bulbs to microwave ovens to air conditioners to embedded glucose monitoring strips to pacemakers to real-time remote surgeries.
The healthcare sector has a lot to gain out of the 5G deployment. Access to affordable healthcare has been a distant dream. The need of healthcare and its availability bear an inverse ratio: all the paramedics are concentrated in the urban setting and the predominant need is in the rural outreach. Given this reality, 5G is expected to be a panacea for this sector. There are multiple areas where 5G can bring in significant impact through workflow disruption and data portability. It will also help bring in digital transformation of the healthcare space:
Remote monitoring of patients: Doctors can do virtual rounds over videos and advise medications (distance now being out of the equation). The high bandwidth coupled with reduced latency will help doctors view physiological (sensor) signals in real time and drive timely interventions. Significant IoT devices (aka bio sensors) can now be integrated into the patient and caregiver ecosystem.
Workflow optimisation and data portability: Once the patient video-consults and reaches the hospital, the entire care continuum could be digitised: starting from scheduling appointments, consults, care coordination, care plan enrollment, content delivery, training and education et al. In addition, it would also enable hospitals to interconnect their PACS and other similar systems of records thereby ushering in an era of data portability.
Image transfers to and from PACS: Given the high bandwidth and the speed, it would now be possible to archive and retrieve significantly large data sets hitherto very difficult. Digital histopathology data sets for a patient could run into GBs and 5G networks can significantly aid in store/retrieval process.
Telemedicine as a force multiplier: Studies indicate that the telemedicine market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 18 per cent from 2020 to 2025. The study determined that the reason for the predicted increase is due to demand in decentralisation of care to the suburban and rural areas as well as a rise in government initiatives (Ayushman Bharat). With 5G, healthcare systems can enable mobile networks to handle telemedicine requirements, which can greatly increase the reach of the programme and drive access and affordable quality healthcare.
Digital twin is a concept wherein you collect physiological and image data of an individual and create an equivalent digital entity called the digital twin. This helps doctors run simulations on the model, select the interventions which provide the best outcomes and then perform those interventions on the patient. They help reduce patient trauma as also drive better outcomes. This technology needs large sets of data, AI to run on these data sets as also compute power. 5G will offer these capabilities to make DT a reality.
Stimulate use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics surgery: Both AI and robotic surgery call for availability of significantly large volumes of huge data sets as also its real-time processing. 5G combined with cloud computing will play a significant role in this area.
As Dr D’Arcy Gue from Medsphere Systems Corporation opines, any technology is not without its boons and banes. Let’s look at a few of these perceived shortcomings as it pertains to 5G networks:
Radiation hazards: The National Toxicology Program study in the US linked high levels of cell phone radiation on the whole bodies of rats to some evidence of carcinogenic activity in six per cent of the males. To what extent the massively large assortment of sensors around us (that radiates energy) will have on our health is something that would need a systematic investigation.
Network rollout: Since Millimeter wave travel very short distances, microcell antenna deployment could pose a non-trivial challenge from an installation and commissioning perspective. The rollout costs could also be significantly higher than conventional 4G networks.
Rural connectivity: Deployment in rural settings, especially in underserved countries could be a huge challenge.
Notwithstanding these arguments, countries are racing ahead with the deployment of 5G networks. We are pretty sure these low latency high-speed networks will change the way healthcare is delivered in the developed and developing world alike and make “Health for All” a reality. It will certainly support the realisation of the quadruple aim: lower cost of care, enhanced patient outcomes, improved patient experience and improved caregiver satisfaction.