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The rollout of 5G networks has been relatively gradual, but adoption is certainly growing. While some private consumers are upgrading their packages, many of the early adopters are different organizations and businesses — especially those looking to use this technology to scale operations. This is because the advantages of faster and more reliable connectivity tend to make a larger, more tangible impact on industries, rather than individuals, at present.
Some organizations can benefit from 5G networks right now, particularly those that rely on consistent communications or have data-rich devices that need constant connectivity. This includes the healthcare industry.
Healthcare may not be the most obvious industry this applies to, but there are some significant advantages this new generation of network connectivity can offer. As medical technology progresses, 5G may well be an essential piece of infrastructure soon.
We’re going to look at what the potential for 5G technology is in the healthcare industry. What applications can it support and how could it make a difference in patients’ lives?
One of the most important areas of potential for 5G technology in healthcare is for enabling professionals to engage more effectively with patients. This is an essential task for building and maintaining doctor-patient relationships on a foundation of trust — not to mention that it also ensures patients get high-quality care. Meaningful engagement is especially relevant when healthcare providers play an important role in improving their patients’ health literacy in an environment that is so subject to misinformation.
Currently, electronic means are among the most practical and popular ways to achieve this engagement. There’s some debate about whether doctors should email or text patients to discuss treatment, advice, and other health matters. There are certainly benefits to using email and text, such as ensuring information gets to patients when they need it most. But there are undoubtedly security concerns. Nevertheless, 5G networks may help this through stronger encryption protocols than previous generations.
Another important potential use of 5G in these scenarios is the network’s ability to quickly and effectively deliver information or advice. The low latency of 5G can mean that contact between doctors and patients through applications can be immediate and impactful. This is likely to be especially beneficial for patients in rural areas or otherwise underserved communities, who may not always get the timely contact with healthcare providers that they need.
The Internet of Medical Things
The internet of things (IoT) has already started to impact various areas of daily life and business. This connected ecosystem of devices and software platforms helps to bolster convenience and efficiency. The medical industry is among the many sectors that are already benefitting significantly from this infrastructure. There’s a growing range of devices and tools that collaborate to provide safer, more convenient care to patients.
5G is integral to the IoT and is likely to have a greater presence in healthcare spaces in the future. This is because the network’s high speeds and low latency make it an essential part of digital ecosystems that benefit from reduced disruptions. Any IoT-enhanced environment is filled with sometimes hundreds of sensors and multiple devices, all exchanging huge volumes of data to function correctly. 5G provides infrastructure that can reliably manage and support these often complex data loads. As a result, healthcare providers and medical staff using the IoT can work more productively.
In the near future, the benefits of 5G as part of the healthcare IoT may expand into more advanced technological services. After all, the combination of strong networks and interconnected devices opens up greater possibilities for automation and AI-enhanced decision-making. An uninterrupted flow of data could be especially effective in enabling automated surgery techniques that mitigate human error. It can also support connecting surgeons to more experienced distant collaborators through virtual reality (VR) devices in the IoT.
Over the last several years, the adoption of wearables has become commonplace. Smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other portable devices are important tools in many people’s everyday routines. These are not just items for convenience or telecommunication activities. Wearables are also an increasingly effective and accessible part of the healthcare landscape. They provide a relatively unobtrusive and accurate form of patient monitoring.
5G is likely to play an invaluable part in this process moving forward. At the moment, the system is largely reliant on wearables recording information and then later sending these via mobile applications. However, with the reliable connectivity of 5G, medical services will be better equipped to access to medical data in real-time. This means healthcare providers can respond to issues more swiftly. This may even extend to monitoring those in particularly vulnerable medical conditions, with direct links to emergency services in the event of crises.
That said, it’s important to recognize that remote patient monitoring relies on highly sensitive patient data being exchanged. It’s both an ethical duty and a general Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance issue to ensure 5G networks are bolstered by sufficient additional security measures.
A focus on network security is crucial for small organizations and even businesses that tend to be greater targets for hackers. This may include arranging for multi-factor authentication measures on apps, performing regular penetration testing, and educating facility employees on safe practices. It may also be important to ensure that patients connecting wearables using public 5G networks utilize virtual private networks (VPNs) for additional safety.
The strong and stable connections 5G networks offer can be beneficial to the healthcare industry both now and in the future. Reliable communications infrastructure can support better patient engagement efforts. The wider bandwidth and lower latency can also prevent disruptions to the growing medical IoT. 5G may also mean patient monitoring involves more practical real-time data analysis. The sooner medical businesses start to adopt 5G, the faster they’ll be able to use the advantages to meet patients’ needs.