Wellness, Self-Care & Prevention
Covid-19 has transformed health systems across the globe, creating a surge in telemedicine and a shift to remote consultations. But in June 2020, a BMA survey found that 50% of GPs remote consultations had been limited by internet speed or bandwidth, hardware and software, and IT infrastructure; care homes often have poor connectivity and members of the public (particularly those living in deprived or rural areas) struggle with connectivity, too. 5G’s improved network capacity (high-bandwidth; low latency) presents a solution: O2 has stated that 5G could free up an extra one million hours per year for the NHS through video conferencing, and save big cities millions of pounds through internet-connected wearables (electronic devices that people can wear, like Fitbits and smartwatches, that are designed to collect the data of users' personal health such as wearable blood pressure monitors or ECG monitors).
According to a study by Market Research Future, the telemedicine market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.5% from 2017 to 2023, parallel with the emergence and rollout of 5G. The network’s ability to share large quantities of data in real-time will allow patients to attend consultations wherever is most convenient for them. Currently, around 5% of healthcare appointments in the UK are missed, many of which are not reallocated. Reliable virtual applications could reduce this figure, increasing patient turnover. This will be particularly helpful for people with chronic illnesses, with more than one in two frustrated by long appointment wait times, their inability to get a convenient appointment time and the nonavailability of doctors of their choice. People who live in rural areas will particularly benefit from expertise becoming decentralised, ensuring that individuals have access to the specialists they need, wherever they are and without having to make long and costly journeys.
5G’s high bandwidth and availability promise quicker and more advanced diagnosis. Results (including huge image files) will be shared with healthcare professionals in real-time, and patients can even conduct less invasive procedures from the comfort of their own homes. What’s more, 5G offers the opportunity for NHS Trusts, local authorities or care providers to deploy private networks to deliver secure, ubiquitous connectivity to surgeries, residential facilities and even peoples’ homes. Offering cost advantages over traditional connectivity solutions can help to address health inequalities by ensuring the same services are available to everyone.
5G promises to enable a new, more efficient, dispersed and inclusive healthcare system, helping to narrow the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged members of our society.
Mass health monitoring of asymptomatic individuals as a precautionary measure, such as the NHS breast screening programme and bowel cancer screening checks, illustrate the value of being able to screen the public at scale. During the pandemic, some countries chose to adopt mass screening methods for Covid-19 and these, alongside the testing regimes deployed in the UK and countries across the globe, needed to minimise the risks to healthcare workers, which could exacerbate the spread of the virus. 5G’s high-bandwidth enables the processing of unprecedented volumes of data in real time, supporting mass screening and testing endeavours. When used to power Machine Learning or robots, screening and testing can not only be highly effective but requires minimal human intervention.
Remote health care offers benefits to both healthcare providers, ensuring fewer missed appointments and increased patient throughput. For patients, this results in better access to healthcare and improved safety. Ericsson found that 70% of patients with chronic illnesses felt care delivered closer to home would help them to manage their health more effectively, while 51% of cross-industry decision makers believe shifting care from hospital settings into the community could reduce costs and improve overall efficiency.
However, in June 2020, a BMA survey found that 50% of GPs had been limited by internet speed or bandwidth, hardware and software, and IT infrastructure; care homes and members of the public (particularly those living in deprived or rural areas) struggle with connectivity, too. But 5G’s low latency and high bandwidth will change this, enabling ultra high definition video consultations and the handling of huge volumes of data: O2 believes that 5G video conference technology could free up an extra one million hours per year for the NHS. The network’s ability to support a much denser network of IoT sensors additionally facilitates more effective consultations than currently possible.
Faster diagnoses can deliver better patient outcomes. But such tools require huge volumes of data, putting considerable strain on today’s networks and slowing down the process. Yet 5G’s high bandwidth and reliability enables the rapid transfer of large, complex data sets and digital images such as MRI or CAT scans. The network also enables AI and Machine Learning for continuous real-time monitoring and speedier, more accurate analysis of diverse data sets.
Advanced technology — powered by 5G — will enable quicker diagnoses by way of next-level medical imaging and AI. The network makes it possible to capture short videos that can show how a body moves from one position to another, providing levels of insight not possible with static images. Doctors are able to see how different parts of the body and organs are moving, facilitating diagnoses related to abnormal movement patterns that are hard to capture with conventional X-ray technology.
In the wake of the pandemic, the backlog of patients waiting for tests and procedures is substantial: in April 2021, there were 187,000 patients in the UK scheduled for an endoscopy, many of them on waiting lists. What’s more, such procedures are costly to perform and unpleasant for the patient. Though not a new concept, pill-sized cameras connected to 5G offer less invasive techniques alongside a richness of data, transferred in real-time. The high bandwidth and low latency of 5G also makes remote supervision possible, opening up the potential for new, less intrusive tests to be self-administered from home. This new wave of 5G-powered diagnostic techniques also offer greater efficiency.
5G’s high bandwidth allows the transfer of huge volumes of data for diagnosis, along with the automation of data analysis. This is expected to play a critical role in relieving the stress on stretched healthcare workers and should help to overcome the challenge of human visual fatigue that has been associated with reduced diagnostic accuracy.
A large proportion of the population are already tracking their movement, heart rate, sleep patterns and even blood oxygen levels. While these devices (such as, the Apple Watch) may not be sufficiently accurate or reliable for diagnosis, medical grade devices could be proactively deployed to the population in order to reliably measure biomedical signals such as blood pressure, body temperature and blood sugar. A 5G network can support a high density of devices, which allows for real-time monitoring of signals. This will help support the growing need for preventative medicine, and increase the health and quality of life of people throughout the country, as well as easing pressures on the health and social care sector.