How 5G can help improve healthcare
The article below appeared in the February 27 issue of Health with Perdana, a regular column in The Star by Perdana University faculty members. This week’s article is contributed by Ir. Prof. Dr. Leong Wai Yie, Director of Perdana University’s Centre for Research Excellence and a Fellow of The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) UK.
In the evolution of telecommunications, 5G is the fifth-generation innovation standard for broadband networks, which started transforming the world in 2019.
5G is a significant evolution of today’s 4G LTE networks.
5G networks can support speeds up to 10 gigabits per second – 100 times faster than 4G.
It can be implemented in low-band, mid-band or high-band millimetre waves of 24 GHz up to 54 GHz.
It is expected to be able to support up to one million connected devices per .38 square miles, compared to around 2,000 connected devices per .38 square miles with 4G.
5G networks are anticipated to have more than 1.7 billion subscribers worldwide by 2025.
This innovation is also expected to have an impact on the healthcare industry.
We used to only have one choice when we fell ill and needed medical help: travel to the nearest clinic or hospital to see a healthcare professional.
For people in rural areas, the travelling time, location and distance is a concern.
For example, those living in the remote, interior areas of Sarawak can be several hours’ travel time away from the nearest clinic, and if the river waters are low, they might not even be able to travel out of their village.
With the development of telehealth, it is possible to obtain medical care from our homes.
Doctors can provide medical advice via a video call, and even monitor patients remotely via smartphones, fitness and other monitoring devices.
With Covid-19 being of concern, this remote healthcare support would also help to reduce patient exposure to infections by minimising in-person visits to doctors or healthcare facilities.
Patients can stay at home and order their prescriptions online for delivery to their doorstep.
5G technology will support terminal-to-terminal communications, making communications easier and faster.
Remote monitoring, in particular, which can involve complex image processing techniques, methodologies and advanced technologies, require the higher network speeds 5G promises.
Internet of Medical Things
The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) is the network of Internet-associated clinical devices, equipment infrastructure and software applications used to connect healthcare information technology.
Also known as the Internet of Things (IoT) in medical services, IoMT permits remote and distant devices to safely transfer data over the Internet to permit fast and adaptable assessment of clinical information.
The quality of network coverage and space over which such data is transferred could affect this process.
5G technology could help overcome the quality and issues of IoMT, including the concerns of digitisation and data transformation.
Handling Big Data
With wearable devices, healthcare professionals can monitor and screen patients from a distance, accumulating continuous information for evaluation, which would allow for customised medical services.
The massive amount and variety of data that this can generate requires systematic organisation, administration and governance.
In the long run, such devices will be restricted by the limitations of networks in dealing with such big data.
A poor network could affect a healthcare professional’s ability to obtain the necessary health information on a patient, especially with more processes going online.
5G promises to be the solution to this problem, allowing medical services suppliers to convey therapy consistently to constantly sick patients across the quickest network accessible.
High-quality 5G connectivity systems can also enhance collaboration between medical professionals, allowing them to work together on things like scans to improve diagnosis and patient care.
Developments in medical equipment engineering have enabled patients to perform basic health screening from the comfort of their own home.
These advancements in medical services occur through the information acquired, accumulated and aligned via sensors.
This information is then communicated to healthcare experts for assessment and analysis.
In this context, the 5G networks play a very important role to allow for better communication between the sensors.
The combination of various IoMT devices and sensors assists doctors in assessing their patients more thoroughly and customising an appropriate course of management.
Many medical services are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to assess and and decide on treatments for patients.
AI can also be used to predict which patients are likely to develop certain conditions or diseases.
This is a lot of information that requires a continuous and high transfer speed network like 5G.
Moreover, healthcare providers frequently need to access such information from their smartphones.
By moving to a 5G network, they can utilise AI instruments to help evaluate and manage their patients from wherever they may be in the clinic or hospital.
Preparing for change
5G definitely has the potential to have a big impact on the healthcare industry.
Healthcare professionals can help patients and collaborate with their colleagues via advanced, precise, productive, helpful and cost-viable methodologies and technologies.
The use of 5G networks can help evolve the medical care industry to the next stage of healthcare – a change that is particularly significant today, given how the Covid-19 pandemic has put a huge burden on medical services frameworks all over the world.
By empowering this innovation through 5G networks, medical care frameworks can work on the nature of care and patient experience, and reduce the medical expenses.
Rather than just responding to patients’ conditions, 5G networks can enable suppliers to give more customised and preventive methods due consideration.
One issue that might hamper this is the long history of fear that 5G radiation poses dangers to human health.
This is not a common occurrence at all, and is mainly of concern only to those who work on large sources of non-ionising radiation devices and instruments.
In the coming years, 5G technology is expected to be scalable and energy efficient, and will pioneer a massive IoT world.
A lot of focus will be on extreme simplicity, low-power consumption and pervasive coverage to reach challenging locations, as well as increased connection density so that networks can handle the massive number of devices deployed for IoT applications.