With the advent of 5G technology, several industry sectors are eyeing to grab the maximum advantages from the fifth-generation spectrum. Considered to be ten times faster than 4G spectrum, 5G can find its exponential applications in the healthcare segment. 5G’s increased data speed, reliability, and security will have a substantial impact on healthcare in terms of quality and money.
In earlier times, ordinary telephone and telegraph lines were used for transferring radiological images. Then came in the two-way interactive television. This was typically used for transmitting neurological examinations across a medical school campus. The use of telemedicine started with this available technology. With constant technological innovations and breakthroughs came in the upgrade of telemedicine applications.
“Telemedicine makes specialists available practically 24/7. A group of specialists who contract with the telemedicine provider handles calls and can respond either by phone or text messages. Or, if the situation warrants, the physicians can diagnose and prescribe treatment for the patient via two-way video conferencing technology, a cart or robot equipped with diagnostic equipment, and a monitor that provides for face-to-face communication with patients and staff.
The telespecialists might be in the same state and time zone, across the country, or in some instances, halfway around the world. But they must be licensed in the state and credentialed by the hospital at which they are practicing. Wherever they are, response time is usually fast.”
- (Mirza A. Micro-Hospitals Provide Health Care Closer to Home. U.S. News [online] 2017. Apr 27, [cited 2018 May 28]) Available from: URL:
The Healthcare Segment
Within the healthcare segment, telemedicine market would be one of the crucial beneficiaries of adapting 5G technology. According to a study by 'Market Research Future', the telemedicine market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.5% from 2017 to 2023. Reason for this predicted growth is an increase in demand in rural areas for healthcare, as well as a rise in government initiatives. A network that can support real-time high-quality video is the primary requirement of telemedicine. This can only happen through wired networks. With 5G, healthcare systems can enable mobile networks to handle telemedicine appointments. This will result in a remarkable increase in the reach of the program.
4G Technology in Digital Healthcare
4G was mainly responsible for the rapid proliferation of digital healthcare. This has been demonstrated by 4G connected devices having a positive effect on a patient's health. Patients were provided with wireless blood pressure cuffs while leaving the hospital. These remote blood pressure cuffs send data to the care team resulting in better control of hypertension in patients. It is estimated that with such remote blood pressure cuffs, there has been an increase of 86 percent in controlling hypertension rates compared to the U.S. average of 48 percent.
4G’s LTE capabilities have led to several breakthrough innovations. This includes continuously monitoring every aspect of patient vitals through multisensory environments, teleporting doctors to a virtual environment for remote haptic interactions with their patients, performing technology-enabled remote surgeries or leveraging artificial intelligence. This has helped in exploring, comparing sensory data and generating new medical insights.
The question arises whether these demands could be met with the exploding demand of connectivity or not. The increased demand for connectivity would necessarily call for 'instant actionable intelligence', right platform for AI, highly efficient critical, ultra-low latency, and haptic use. These are the needs which are looking forward to the 5G technology with its ultra-reliable, low-latency and massive data communications features.
Lightning fast speeds are also going to be a critical contributor of 5G in the field of diagnostics. For example - the doctor is downloading an image which has to be fast and clear so as to make a correct diagnosis as lives are on the line.
Typical Network Architecture for e-medicine
The typical network architecture depicts the overall structure of a telemedicine network. This is based on a medical health cloud computing platform and the platform service mode. Currently, some public wireless networks (Bluetooth wireless PAN, Wi-Fi, 4G cellular network and NB-IOT) are being used to offer wireless medical services. In the home or hospital environment, wearable or portable devices and IP-based terminals complete the data collection and transmission. This data, after reasonable user authorization, can be accessed by the user themselves or their relatives anytime and anywhere.
Health Management System
The new health management system combines the Internet of Things (IoT) with cloud computing and big data technology, to fully exploit health status change information. Through data mining, feature extraction and data analysis, the potential disease can be screened and alarmed in advance, based on the medical and health data collected by various IoT terminals in the hospital and home environments. Targeted preventative intervention can block, delay or even reverse the developing disease.
A New Generation of e-Health Systems Powered by 5G –
In the above typical architecture, the integration of LPWA and mm-Wave technology are the critical features for the healthcare vertical. But, these have their own limitations. More complex innovation would become more practical with 5G technology. This will be in terms of access and core network to provide the ability for combining/re-combining data and services in order to add value.
5G for Healthcare
The multi-domain orchestration of 5G will play a huge role in the virtualization of care (Precision Medicine). For this, different services consumed by a patient need to be integrated in real time such as a requirement of dosage of a particular pharmaceutical or external management of artificial organs such as insulin pumps in real time. Multi-domain orchestration and multi-tenancy will play a key role in the simultaneous use of same physical network infrastructure by different stakeholders.
Patients will have the interest to combine several individual services with other stakeholders using the same infrastructure having different needs. Healthcare providers might want to see how the prevalence of a particular disease impacts their budget. Pharmaceutical companies might want to know how a particular medication is utilized in a region. Self-help groups might want to implement peer-to-peer communication – all utilizing the same network at the same time.
The 5G Rollout
There are emerging requirements with regards to time synchronization. 5G will see an increased density of access points in the radio access network (RAT) due to the physical proprieties of the new wave formats. On top of this, different technologies such as future satellite internet, device-to-device (D2D) communication and terrestrial Internet need to be coordinated. Time synchronization will also play a role in the progressive uptake of parallel processing where centralized public cloud intelligence will be progressively deployed into the network periphery.
Some healthcare companies have already started working on their plans of getting ready for the 5G rollout. For example - Imaginalis. This company develops and produces robotic imaging medical devices. It is working to leverage 5G to advance remote diagnosis capabilities and even remote, robot-assisted surgery. Another company is the BioRobotics Institute. It is looking for ways to leverage next-gen 5G connections and healthcare robots to provide complex healthcare services, including health support for elderly people.
Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and/or treatment of patients via telecommunications technology. It will be an important part of the next generation of healthcare in a connected world. It focuses on the fast network speeds enabled by 5G networks. Professionals across all verticals will be able to communicate faster and more reliably. Certainly, the companies involved in taking forward the 5G technology will have to lay a solid foundation for the explosion of 5G-enabled devices and solutions.