5G healthcare for the future
The digital health market is set to exceed $379 billion by 2024, according to a report by Global Market Insights published at the end of 2018, and telehealth systems are estimated to grow at 33.8% CAGR. With the UK digital health market recently valued at $4 billion in 2017, it’s clear that healthcare is one of the key areas set to be revolutionised by 5G.
Because of its responsiveness and speed, 5G-enabled technology will power improvements in telecare and telehealth imaging and data collection, aggregation and analysis, say the experts. The super-fast connectivity will enable the widescale adoption of telehealth video conferencing, so that patients can ‘visit’ their GP on their smartphones or devices.
A forecast from O2 indicates that 5G will free up 1 million hours of GP time and save up to £1.3 billion in productivity gains due to reduced workplace absence. Patients will save 3.3 hours per year in GP visits and reduce exposure to infections and viruses in waiting rooms. Business opportunities from the new technology will benefit telcos, app developers, pharmaceutical companies, wearable device manufacturers, government health organisations and insurance companies, among others.
5G-enabled telecare will also provide an alternative to employing carers or putting family members in care homes, which is estimated to save households an average of £489 per week. The technology could reduce council social care budgets by 5% to save £890 million, which can be reinvested in other social services.
A project set up to investigate the social care benefits for the UK, Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care, is the first 5G supported health trial of its kind in Europe and has received £3.5 million from the government’s 5G strategy. It is a consortium that brings together diverse expertise from sectors including academia, NHS, social care, wireless, emerging technology and games development. It is also comprised of more SMEs than most of the other five testbeds, which gives it a unique insight into the role and potential input that smaller, agile and innovative small businesses can have on the creation of a 5G eco-system across a city. Within this project, eleven organisations, including Liverpool City Council, the NHS, universities and health technology businesses, are focused on developing new technologies that will help people live independently at home for longer.
Its project director is Rosemary Kay, who also runs Liverpool’s eHealth Cluster. This was set up, she explains, to broker better collaboration between technology SMEs and organisations like the NHS and city council, who commission health and social care technologies for patients and service users. It facilitates product design and development that is useful and easily integrated into existing services.
“The cross-sector fertilisation between NHS/social care partners and innovative SMEs, enables the development of 5G supported health and social care technologies that are willingly accepted and adopted by care providers working on the ground”, says Rosemary.
The eHealth Cluster has also created an Adoption Readiness Level policy that sits alongside the usual Technology Readiness Level, helping to better understand how useful and easily
adopted the technologies will be for those using them. This policy ensures that the technologies created are usable and respond to a need within the sector.
Watch a video animation highlighting key project aims and aspects below:
Key objectives and technologies to deliver them
One of the project’s main aims is to prove that 5G connectivity, made available to digitally deprived neighbourhoods like Kensington in Liverpool, can help drive improvements to the way health and social care services are delivered in a meaningful and measurable way.
“We’re also investigating how wireless 5G mesh networks, using existing fibre and equipment - in this case delivered by Blu Wireless technology - erected on street furniture like lampposts can be delivered cost effectively, across a dense urban environment, to provide general coverage,” says Rosemary.
We have used a ‘digital twin’ simulation of Kensington, developed by CGA simulation, that helps to automate the planning process by finding the ‘lines of sight’ needed between each node that result in an effective and economical mesh. Using a digital twin at this planning stage, provides a more cost effective and accurate way to deploy a 5G technology network at scale.
The project also plans to deploy a new access network using local hosting at a CIC data-centre. Rosemary explains:
“We will integrate existing local authority fibre infrastructure and are using a street-level mesh of mmWave wireless at a scale not previously attempted. Our innovative, automated planning tool uses digital twin technology, 3D mapping and new algorithms that enable us to save time and money. Our project has benefitted from the development of multi-hop link adaptation, network configuration, sharing and power management, academic analysis and research.
Technologies that have been developed over the past 12 months since the launch of the project include:
- Safehouse sensors, which can be installed in homes to detect falls, changes in temperature and unusual behaviour patterns
- PAMAN, which provides a video link to a local pharmacy, helping people to take medicines at home safely (pictured below)
- Push to Talk, a “loneliness app” for isolated carers that links them with other carers in a similar position
- Telehealth in a Box, which is designed to aid communication between The Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Trust and patients in the community
- WarnHydrate - a device used to detect dehydration in older people
- Challenges and solutions
Key challenges for this complex consortium have related both to the technical side of the project and the health and social care element.
“During a relatively short trial period we have been reliant on existing, qualified user devices and the final link to users in residential settings has to be made by wifi,” says Rosemary. “The trial makes use of wifi repeaters and additional wifi mesh installations to deliver coverage reactively where required. In the longer term, wifi in its current and evolved forms will continue to have a role alongside other local area technologies including mmWave installations on more buildings. Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care’s employment of this technology can be described as a ‘network of networks’ that is the perfect environment for supporting ‘Internet of Things’ technologies in dense urban environments.”
When dealing with “real world” health and social issues, there is a need to reflect these challenges in the approaches taken throughout, she explains. “People with long-term health conditions are using the technology, as are care providers, visiting and monitoring people living independently with long-term conditions at home. This means we have been very aware of the importance of abiding by safeguarding, data protection, and issues around consent and have incorporated guidelines and information for people using the technology.”
What does the future look like?
Within one to three years, the project expects to see the technology refined to a point where it can realise the low cost of procurement, planning and deployment, and the delivery of consistent Gbit performance. In the longer term, it is expected to see investment in a new, dependable, fibre-equivalent access network that brings lower recurring costs and enables delivery of existing and improved health and social care services, with a greater proportion delivered in the community.
Delivering value around the world
“Over the course of the project it has become clear that innovative health and social care applications that rely on dependable high-speed connectivity are being developed and deployed around the world”, explains Rosemary.
These innovations are already delivering value in some markets. The Liverpool project establishes a competitive model - using elements that may form parts of other models - for delivering connectivity, meeting the performance requirements of the applications and the prevalent economic, regulatory and market conditions in the UK. There will be opportunities to use the models we develop in several export markets.
A UK project with far-reaching global benefits, an excellent model for what the future of 5G promises
Words: Bernadette Fallon