If you are reading these words online, chances are that you are looking at a smartphone screen.
More likely than not it will be a 4G device: the wireless protocol now accounts for more than half of mobile connections globally.
Now more than a decade old, 4G LTE technology has made possible advances such as IoT networks, wireless patient monitoring and patient-doctor video interactions in healthcare, all of which empower medical professionals and improve patient outcomes.
While 4G adoption continues to grow, the next generation has now arrived – one that will deliver new levels of performance and efficiency, empowering new user experiences.
With 5G capable of achieving speeds approximately100 times faster than 4G, alongside a significant decrease in end-to-end latency (the delay between sending and receiving information), it is expected to generate unprecedented economic and social value.
It will also play a key role in accelerating the digital transformation in healthcare.
Indeed, in a 2021 Omnia Health survey of worldwide healthcare professionals, more than one-fifth of respondents across the globe identified 5G-enabled healthcare solutions as a key emerging trend in 2021-22, ahead of other new developments including the arrival of new healthcare ‘unicorns’ and resumption of medical travel.
As hospitals and health providers continue to innovate – as we have seen in the pandemic – the amount of data usage and transfer will continue to increase. 5G is expected to facilitate near real-time data exchange, contributing to swift decision making in critical circumstances and consequently improving health outcomes.
When combined with Artificial Intelligence, 5G will support healthcare practitioners in more powerful ways. AI will remove the burden of everyday administrative tasks, and improve the speed and accuracy of diagnostics, leading to better care outcomes - and more satisfied patients and physicians alike.
In the UAE, for example, a cloud-based medical imaging platform powered by Etisalat’s 5G broadband is revolutionising remote diagnostic capabilities of healthcare institutions by managing high volumes of medical images at lightning fast speeds.
5G in healthcare
ICT leaders, such as Etisalat Digital, are also envisioning 5G-enabled healthcare solutions in the following key areas:
Site connectivity and management
The value of clinical collaboration and communication within and outside the healthcare ecosystem has become essential in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic effectively.
5G can be a game changer for healthcare enterprise services that need to support clinical collaboration and communications, during and after the pandemic, that are richer in content and that require a reliable infrastructure for mission-critical applications and devices.
Remote and extended practice
The speed and data capacity of 5G can enable remote care and treatment, combining tools and devices (whether these are robotics or IoMT for example) that effectively support smooth communication and procedures performed in real time, regardless of location.
A real-time exchange of data can be a key determinant in emergency situations, such as ambulance remote diagnosis and real-time health data transfer, as well as in conditions where teleconsultation is the only option.
Training and education
Skills building in the medical arena can potentially be enhanced through simulation activities enabled by 5G. The use of VR and haptics – technology creating a sense of touch - in the education process can provide realistic, real-time remote tuition, delivered at the highest resolution.
5G enables VR and wearable sensors to be used for home-based rehabilitation, as well as video consultation and real-time transfer of images, videos, and healthcare-related information from clinical-grade devices.
This has the potential of giving patients faster and more accurate remote diagnosis and advice.
5G promises to solve some of the fundamental challenges in improving access to care and has the potential to catalyse health innovations improving real-time clinical decision making and thereby health outcomes.