Healthcare industry and ecosystem will be more connected, intelligent and efficient, but there will be many hurdles to overcome first
The pandemic has accelerated digital and technological innovation in the healthcare industry. As 5G becomes more widely adopted, healthcare applications are endless.
5G in the healthcare sector was a key discussion in a recent two-day conference, 5G TECH 2021.
The panellists for the topic ‘Unlocking Future of Healthcare with 5G’ were Vishnu Bhan, Director 5G Customer Engagement from Singtel and Preetha Nadarajah, Chief Technology Officer from Nokia Malaysia.
Revon Media Publisher Kay Mathy moderated the session.
Potential of 5G in healthcare
Vishnu shared the benefits and potential of 5G for the healthcare sector.
“The first is a collaboration between surgeons in the operating room, where they can see surgeries which are being conducted and guide doctors on what to do next,” said Vishnu.
“Real-time video streaming also enables specialists or surgeons to provide assistance and guidance to doctors to perform surgeries in rural and remote areas.
“The second benefit is using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to plan surgery using visuals.
“Physicians can use 5G technology to simulate complicated medical conditions and perform less invasive procedures.
“The third is powering drones for the delivery of life-saving medication with real-time streaming of an available doctor for people in remote areas.”
Another is connected ambulances, where trauma specialists can dial in and monitor the vitals of patients and the ability to decide on the route to the nearest hospital, which has the specialisation and capacity to treat the patient.
“It’s a whole new world. And with 5G, we expect this to accelerate the adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals around standards and quality of life with affordable and available healthcare that is also efficient and reliable,” added Vishnu.
5G use cases
The use cases of the 5G system falls under three categories; enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB); Ultra-Reliability Low Latency Communications (uRLLC); and massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)
Preetha explained that applications such as AR, VR, real-time video monitoring, meeting, and interaction fall under eMBB.
Meanwhile, mMTC provides connectivity to a vast density of online devices and Internet of Things (IoT) systems.
Finally, uRLLC offers low latency in milliseconds with high network reliability of 99.999 per cent.
“eMBB would be the first to get rolled out when 5G goes live in Malaysia. The next two categories, uRLLC and mMTC, are most likely to roll out towards the end of 2022 or 2023 onwards.”
Preetha highlighted that 5G, apart from enabling technologies, would disrupt industries’ value chain.
“There would be new players, either those who are operating in the adjacent space who would take on that role and take offerings to market. You will hear buzzwords like ecosystem partnerships, which are not heard of with 4G.
“This is now going to be the norm with 5G. It’s all about working together with people from companies and people with expertise in different industries to realise 5G use cases that can be taken to market that is of value to consumers.”
Challenges overcome by 5G
Preetha believes 5G can solve distributing medications to remote and rural areas.
“Imagine if you could pick up medicine from a lockbox, which is secure and integrated with the rest of the healthcare value chain. The person picking up the medication is authorised to pick it up from the lockbox, which has temperature control settings,” added Preetha.
Vishnu also highlighted that 5G would solve the problems and issues arising from Covid-19.
“For example, if a patient goes to the hospital for a check, you need a nurse or doctor to check them physically, and people are apprehensive because of transmissions,” added Vishnu.
With 5G, he explained, the triage process can be done through robots connected to actual humans at the backend where it is safe, while robots interact directly with the patient and monitor the vitals.
He also noted in certain circumstances, sending drones with antidotes and real-time video streaming instructions to patients in a remote area instead of expensive airlift services would be more efficient and cost-effective.
“This is because the services are readily available and inclusive, and concurrently reduces the total cost of healthcare.”
Preetha believes the cost of 5G will increase slowly based on consumption and demand.
5G, she said, will enable commercial aspects, such as competitive countries, making surface models available for players to enter.
“This is so they can approach 5G in bite sizes as it is better to start small than use an outright capital expenditure model where the industry purchases 5G equipment and can’t make use of it,” she said.
Vishnu assured that 5G has the best clinical and patient data security and privacy security.
“5G can have local break-out (LBO) and enables data to be processed within the premises, which is not possible with 4G.”
Expectantly, with 5G, the healthcare industry and ecosystem will be more connected, intelligent, and efficient. However, there will be many hurdles to overcome before 5G becomes common within the healthcare industry. — The Health