5G and Medical Treatment

5G’s ability to transfer large amounts of data in real-time will enable more efficient and reliable medical treatment and social care. This is significant because over 40 percent of cross-industry decision-makers say dispersed patient data is a serious concern in the current healthcare system, while 45 percent feel giving doctors online access to centralised patient data will positively impact healthcare services and four out of five GPs report problems for patients caused by poor coordination of care.  The provision of high quality social care relies on high quality information not just about the care they have received but about their individual likes, preferences and needs.  Much of that information today is paper-based with only 40 percent of care providers using a digital social care record.  

5G’s impressive connectivity could help take the pressure off ambulance staff and secure better patient outcomes in emergency scenarios, including remote analysis of data and guidance from specialists in real-time. Such interventions should  decrease the number of patients who need to be referred to the hospital for further treatment.  This is significant because prolonged stays in hospital have a negative impact particularly on older people - and cost the NHS £400 a night.  The National Audit Office found that after spending just 10 days in hospital, a patient’s health can deteriorate to such an extent that it reduces their life expectancy by 10 years, with the average 67-year-old admitted to hospital in reasonably good health losing 14 percent of their hip and muscle strength after just ten days.  Australian academics have reported the elderly can lose as much as 5 percent of their muscle strength for every day they spend in hospital.

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will also have a huge impact on the delivery of medical treatment  — both in  supporting and guiding medical professionals to collaborate and deliver treatments, and in the delivery of treatment itself. The NHS recognises digital therapeutics as both an efficient and effective way of treating patients, particularly in mental health. Scientific studies have shown that VR in particular, set to be a huge beneficiary of 5G, has the power to reduce anxiety. With the speeds and range offered by the new generation of 5G networks, secondary care, for the treatment of mental and physical health conditions, can become available remotely. 

What’s more, 5G networks are essential to the provision of remote services. Remote medication adherence can help people maintain their independence with less direct support from social services, and maximise the efficacy of their drug regimes, while continuous monitoring in hospitals, care homes and peoples’ homes enables earlier detection and resolution of issues before they become emergencies, helping to safeguard individuals and promote general wellbeing.  Surgery too is set to be transformed, with better informed surgeons and even the potential for remote robotic surgery. Nearly half (48 percent) of consumers feel that remote robotic surgery would be acceptable, yet sixty-one percent believe such procedures are risky as they rely on the internet. But 5G, with its scope for network slicing and private networks, can offer unprecedented reliability.  

With 5G, medical treatment can start to shift from reactive to preventative, out of clinics and into communities; offering better outcomes for patients and cost efficiencies for the sector.

How Could 5G Facilitate Medical Treatment?

Connected Patients in Hospitals

According to NHS Digital, there are around 38,952 registered nurse vacancies in England, emphasising that the pressure on nursing staff is greater than ever. But technology can be used to continuously monitor patients’ vital signs and symptoms while in hospital, helping to reduce the strain on stretched workers and deliver more efficient and personalised treatment. 5G’s high-bandwidth can support a greater density of devices, allowing for broadscale monitoring, which makes it well suited for monitoring of critical data.

Where has this been done?

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. 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.

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Remote Assistance

5G’s high bandwidth and low latency can connect health and social care workers to experts around the world in real-time, through ultra high-definition video, mixed reality and haptic instruction. The “golden hour” is critical to deliver the best possible outcomes in the case of an emergency: high quality, reliable access to remote expertise during that period can have a significant impact. From the operating theatre to the scene of an accident, 5G and the robust connectivity guaranteed — through standalone private networks or network slices — ensures patients have access to the best possible care. 

Where has this been done?
Automation to Support the Efficiency & Effectiveness of Medical Treatment

5G’s high bandwidth enables a far greater density of devices to be connected and huge volumes of data in real-time, providing greater opportunities for automation and machine learning — while low latency allows for robots to conduct more complex and critical tasks, extending their application. This can offer significant operational efficiencies against a backdrop of NHS staff shortages across the UK. In the instance of surgical robots that can be assisted by 5G-powered AI — already used in the NHS to conduct keyhole surgeries — it may also lead to more effective treatment. Evidence shows that the use of robotic equipment in surgery delivers a more precise and less disruptive procedure, with significantly smaller surgical instruments meaning quicker recovery times. Nearly half (48 percent) of consumers feel that remote robotic surgery would be acceptable yet sixty-one percent believe such procedures are risky as they rely on the internet. With the ultra reliability that comes from network slicing or private networks, 5G can help to overcome such concerns.

Where has this been done?
Remote Robotic Surgery

One of the most lauded examples of how 5G can revolutionise healthcare is the ability for surgeons to conduct robotic surgeries from a remote location. This removes any sense of a “postcode lottery” in healthcare, ensuring that patients have access to specialist surgical operations, no matter where they—or the doctor—are based. While we believe that remote robotic surgeries are unlikely to become widely seen in the short term, 5G’s low latency and the ultra reliability guaranteed by network slices or standalone private networks, means such capability does now exist. Such procedures are conducted using haptic feedback and ultra high-definition image streaming that demand low latency and high throughput communication.  

When will this be available? View our predicted timeline here.

Where has this been done?
Emergency Care

In the provision of emergency care, time is a critical factor in determining patient outcomes. 5G’s high bandwidth and low latency can enable the transfer of huge amounts of data — including ultra high-definition video — in real-time between ambulances, domiciliary workers and other healthcare workers in the field, and hospitals. In return, specialists can guide paramedics and healthcare workers through certain procedures by way of augmented reality. This can help support first responders to diagnose and administer more complex care at the site of the emergency and enable hospitals to effectively prepare for a patient’s arrival, all of which should lead to more positive outcomes for individuals. Empowering paramedics to diagnose and treat more conditions is expected to reduce the number of calls that do require a subsequent transfer of the patient to hospital for further treatment. The financial implications of this are significant: a hospital bed in the UK costs £400 a night. 

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Mixed Reality for Medical Interventions

5G’s high bandwidth and low latency enables virtual and augmented reality to be used for treating patients, from distraction therapy and pain management to rehabilitation and exposure therapy. There is mounting evidence that such interventions can improve the comfort and quality of life of people with terminal or long-term debilitating illnesses, while the ability to offer remote secondary care treatments delivers far greater convenience for individuals and cost efficiencies for the NHS. With the speeds and range offered by 5G, such treatments — which currently rely on wired networks with expensive, specialist hardware — will be more accessible. The ability to connect to 5G networks on-the-go opens up opportunities to treat more people in their own homes and in remote locations.

When will this be available? View our predicted timeline here.

Where has this been done?
Mixed Reality for Supporting Health

Virtual and augmented reality over 5G offers great opportunities to support and assist healthcare workers to deliver care more collaboratively and effectively. From ultra high-definition video conferencing to real-time 3D anatomical renderings, remote training and support, 5G can better connect remote health and social care workers, transfer huge volumes of data in real-time and offer unprecedented insights and detail, right when they’re needed.

Where has this been done?
Mental Health Treatment & Management

Mental health services in the UK are under considerable strain. Since 2016 there has been a 21% increase in the number of people who are in contact with mental health services yet the workforce has had little growth over the past 10 years, with a notable shortage of psychiatrists. As a result, two-fifths of patients waiting for treatment are forced to resort to emergency or crisis services. Digital therapeutics (DTx), powered by 5G, could play a significant role in cutting waiting times and offer equal access to treatment irrespective of location. With 5G’s high bandwidth and low latency, real-time monitoring can help better make the link between physical and mental symptoms: gamified interventions can support engagement and understanding of how to self-manage conditions, while next-level mixed reality experiences can be developed to offer exposure treatment and cognitive behavioural therapy interventions.

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