By Vikram Thaploo
Healthcare has been witnessing a flurry of innovations over the past decade, helping medical professionals to improve patient care and push the boundaries. The enablement of 5G telecom networks will not only accelerate telemedicine’s development but also change the face of healthcare. The increased bandwidth along with the low latency of 5G will allow for higher resolution images and video, increasing the quality and value of virtual interaction. Some of the present gaps in 4G networks which are creating barriers in the widespread adoption of advanced telehealth solutions in India can be easily addressed through 5G technology.
5G technology supports high speeds of up to 20 GB/s based on IMT-2020 and 1-GHz bandwidth, along with 10,000X greater traffic than the present 4G network can deliver. It also offers ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) for time-critical communication such as remote robotic surgery, which needs extremely low latency. With increased bandwidth and low latency, 5G will allow for higher resolution video and images, increasing the quality and value of virtual interaction. This will not only reduce the need to visit a medical clinic when unsafe or unnecessary but also benefit remote patients who may not have easy access to a medical facility or hospital. 5G networks will not only allow treatment of patients remotely but also assist doctors to do it from virtually anywhere, with no pauses or delays. Better visual detail and higher clarity in video calls will allow for more accurate remote assessment and targeted early treatment, even when the patient is on the move in an ambulance.
Telemedicine is the convergence of Healthcare, MedTech, IT and Telecom. While Healthcare and MedTech are already at their peak, IT and telecom will get a substantial boost through the introduction of 5G. The introduction of 5G technology will be an extraordinary process that will allow Healthcare and MedTech to achieve new care paradigms through innovation in IT and better connectivity through telecom.
Amongst the many ICT options available to the government to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its delivery process of primary health care, mobile & wireless technologies offer some exciting opportunities for a low cost, high reach service. It has been reported that 80% of patients in rural India visit public hospitals for primary health-related problems, which could be addressed by PHCs near their home. A robust Smart Health solution characterised by a cloud-based platform, connected devices and trained professionals can significantly reduce physical visits to hospitals as these can be managed from PHCs with doctors being available at a centralised remote location. A reliable and fast 5G network can make this possible. With the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM), patient medical history will be intact and remote health services will be available at scale but India will need robust 5G connectivity across villages and cities to make it a success.
The higher data speeds and throughput of 5G will also enable transmission of large quantities of information. This is especially useful for the healthcare community as a whole because patient case files and MRI scans and reports, which are large, can be quickly sent to specialists for review. Data management is becoming pivotal in healthcare, with everyone from nurses to doctors and EMTs and lab technicians sharing large amounts of information. 5G can even support the development of innovative technologies for telemedicine and the healthcare industry. Cutting-edge innovations include XR-powered tools, which could be used for medical training, teaching, or virtual therapy. For instance, by using haptic feedback gloves with millisecond response times, medical professionals could receive immersive training and visualization for complex procedures. Detailed VR technology could also help doctors better explain diagnoses to their patients. Other than that, wearables and AI-enhanced apps can use 5G technology to apply machine learning to health-related data analysis in various scenarios, from diagnosis to emergency medical attention. Telepresence has facilitated complex surgical procedures to be carried out in regions that lack expert surgeons. At the same time, robotics offer invaluable assistance, allowing procedures to be performed less invasively, thus reducing complications and delivery times. An aspect that will advance telesurgery even further is the attainment of a fast enough internet connection that will permit telepresence in real time. Already there are reports that a wireless brain Telesurgery of a patient has been carried out from 1800 miles away using 5G technology. With 5G technology, doctors at a distance will be able to perform Telesurgery by assisting the Robots and this can soon become a reality in India. Apart from its plethora of benefits, 5G will also aid in the development of a new connected healthcare system especially in the post-COVID era.
To deal with the pandemic of COVID-19, healthcare systems throughout the entire world are being reconfigured. It is possible that when the lockdown restrictions are loosened across the country, a new set of further restrictions could be imposed if the virus makes another comeback. Also, medical interventions across the world are on the rise and many developed nations are performing 40% more surgical procedures as compared to what they did 10 years earlier. Combined with COVID-19, the increasing rise in medical interventions is putting enormous pressure on public health facilities and hospitals. As a result, there is an immediate need to increase the resilience, responsiveness and capacity of our healthcare systems.
Other than infrastructural needs, information and data will play a significant role if we are to achieve the same, and 5G adoption will impact this in a major way. 5G will allow us to build a healthcare ecosystem that will be:
Predictive – The fast and consistent flow of critical data will provide better insight and information to healthcare professionals to predict, diagnose, and treat patients efficiently and effectively.
Preventative – There is already growing evidence of how IoT devices and 5G have been used across different countries to track and manage the COVID-19 virus. 5G will allow further advancements in preventative care to better manage crises.
Participatory – With the help of 5G technology, patients will be able to play an increasingly active role when it comes to their care, and also engage with their healthcare professionals on their wellbeing, diagnosis, treatments, and outcomes in a more efficient manner. This will, in turn, make our healthcare systems more proactive, efficient, and productive.
Personalised – The huge quantum of clinical data will allow medical professionals to deliver personalised care to their patients.
Unlike the earlier generations of mobile networks, 5G will fundamentally transform the role connectivity will play in healthcare. It will act as a catalyst in the way humans and machines interact with each other and amongst themselves. It will not only lead to an interconnected healthcare ecosystem but also provide a framework for the implementation of AI, analytics, IoT, robotics and much more to make our healthcare systems more robust, agile and competent.
By Vikram Thaploo, CEO, Apollo TeleHealth, Apollo Hospitals Group, India
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