While the launch of 5G networks are a few years away, once cellular network operators get them up and running, the benefits to healthcare are boundless. As the use of mobile devices continues to increase in healthcare, the data speeds brought with 5G will be capable of supporting things like remote monitoring through medical-grade wearables and virtual doctor-patient consultations. Other benefits may include better doctors and healthcare available to more people, regards of the patient’s location as well as the potential for better outcomes with accessible centralized patient records. Once launched, 5G is expected to allow connectivity speeds of around 10 gigabits per second. That is about 20 times faster than 4G. 5G will also bring low latency and the ability to support millions, if not billions, of devices. It was recently announced by AT&T, that they would be launching 5G in five more cities by the end of 2018, bringing the total number of 13. Verizon had previously announced the roll-out to four cities, in October, and T-Mobile announced they would be rolling the technology out to 30 cities.
The questions is, is healthcare ready?
The answer is, maybe. As 5G enabled devices start to hit the market, healthcare organizations will need to purchase them or rely on their staff who have already done so. The technology will support organizations as they move to more a consumer-centric, value-based model, but the adoption will not be immediate. As 2019 approaches, the first vendors will start to bring the technology to the forefront. Hospitals sometimes have over 100 applications and even more vendors, and they all will not gain the functionality at one time. Qualcomm, who has developed the first 5G chip, says that “5G will be a “substantial enabler” of a new era of personalized healthcare by providing organizations with the ability to leverage large amounts of patient-specific data they can use to develop predictive analytics. That, in turn, will allow providers to take more specific action tailored to each patient and his or her condition.”
Healthcare organizations continue to expand the number of systems that they use. With each new system, the demands on the network infrastructure increase. More connectivity, more data, more bandwidth. Different systems have distinct types of data and formats which affect bandwidth, data rate, and latency. With 5G, the mobile networks would be faster than standard hospital networks. Hospitals will be faced with the decision to either upgrade their internal network speed at a substantial cost or invest in mobile devices and pay for unlimited data. The value of each will need to be examined and the most cost-effective decision made.
As with any technology, there are challenges that lie ahead with 5G, but it will enable the possibility of a revolution in the healthcare sector. While a lot can be done with existing technologies, the problem is that to realize the full potential and benefits of 5G technologies, the hospitals, and the vendors need to prepare for that today.
When it comes to 5G mobile devices and how soon they may find their way into healthcare organizations, a recent article in Fast Company reported that a source with knowledge stated that Apple’s first 5G iPhone would come to market in 2020.
Is healthcare ready for 5G today? Maybe. Should healthcare be getting prepared for 5G tomorrow? Yes
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