5G is set to improve the quality of care patients receive, wherever they are. Whether in an ambulance en route to the emergency room, receiving treatment in a hospital, or resting at home, patients will benefit from care that is personalised, efficient and cost-effective. As the UK population ages and hospitals face growing pressure on budgets, 5G is likely to play a crucial role in helping to improve patient outcomes.
Here are just a few ways 5G could help to deliver an even better standard of care for patients.
5G will offer speeds that are up to 10 times faster than 4G, allowing care teams to share vital information faster than ever before. In an ambulance equipped with 5G technology, paramedics will be able to share critical patient data with A&E staff before arriving at the hospital. This helps emergency doctors and nurses to determine which patients they need to treat first, speeding up the triage process. And using high quality video streaming, A&E staff can start the work of diagnosing patients as early as possible.
5G-enabled remote surgery
A key benefit of 5G is significantly less “latency”, which is the time the network takes to respond to a data request. Measured in milliseconds (1 ms = 0.001 seconds), latency affects how quickly a web page loads, for example. While 4G latency is around 20 ms to 30 ms, 5G promises latency of 5 ms to 10 ms. That can fall to less than 1 ms using the power of Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC). This technology is located at the edge of the mobile network to be closer to the end user, and offers access to cloud computing and IT services.
Latency of around 1 ms makes medical breakthroughs like remote surgery possible. Remote surgery enables specialists in one location to operate on patients in a separate location. This has the potential to save lives. With improved latency, if a patient needs a particular type of surgical procedure that only certain hospitals offer, remote surgery would allow that patient to undergo the right treatment without having to transfer to a specialist centre elsewhere, saving precious time.
Hospitals across the globe are already starting to test the potential of remote health solutions. In February, medical experts in Spain achieved a world first in this area. Using 5G, a team performing colon surgery at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona communicated in real time with the Hospital’s head of gastrointestinal surgery, Dr Antonio de Lacy, who was three miles away. Appearing before a live audience at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) conference, Dr de Lacy provided guidance to the surgical team over a video connection. The notes Dr de Lacy made were transmitted in near real time over 5G, and displayed on a screen in the Hospital Clinic’s digitally-equipped operating room.
5G-connected remote monitoring
Connected medical devices enable care teams to monitor their patients remotely. With the help of these devices, patients can collect and transmit vital data such as their blood pressure without having to travel to a clinic. This is especially beneficial for patients who are vulnerable or elderly, and cannot easily make repeated trips.
Studies show that remote monitoring offers significant benefits for patients as well as healthcare providers. A recent study of kidney patients undergoing a treatment known as automated peritoneal dialysis (APD) found that remote monitoring improves the patient’s quality of life, reduces the number of hospital visits, and is cost effective.
5G technologies will make it even easier for patient data to be collected, analysed, and shared securely, all in real time. These technologies include Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), a low power, low cost solution designed for a large number of connected devices that require long battery life and deep coverage across a wide geographical area or within buildings. Devices powered by 5G technologies could help healthcare providers to detect problems early, enabling them to intervene sooner than would have been possible previously.
Vodafone has started trialling 5G and will be launching it in 19 towns and cities across the UK this year. As 5G evolves, we can expect to see even more innovations that will transform healthcare and improve patients’ health and wellbeing.