Sick of 5G in the News? It Just Might Save Your Life
If you're looking for buzzwords, look no further than 5G.
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If you're looking for buzzwords, look no further than 5G, the next and newest mobile wireless standard based on the IEEE 802.11ac standard of broadband technology. With 5G, mobile technology is expected to be faster, have fewer dead zones, and end data caps on cellular contracts. We've already seen Samsung and Verizon, Sprint and LG, and other companies announce 5G smartphones to be released in the first half of 2019.
When you consider the sheer number of devices connected to the Internet, including mobiles, wearable tech, and AR and VR devices, these devices need to accommodate increased traffic at a greater speed but also be able to provide broader coverage for IoT devices (and we're not even at autonomous car stage, yet). If you want to stream video seamlessly, play a VR game, or receive real-time insights, these are the kind of capabilities that 5G promises to achieve.
It follows that big telcos and companies across all verticals are investing, researching, and planning in preparation for the new mobile wireless standard. I attended the 5G Techritory conference earlier this year in Riga about the promise and challenges of 5G in the Baltic region.
I attended a couple of forums on 5G and healthcare with interest. 5G is really the backbone that enables nascent technology, such as IoT and AI, to run smoothly. For example, in the case of telemedicine, the success of usage is limited by the capacity of the network to handle the data. Slow network speeds and unreliable connections could mean doctors are unable to get real-time data to make quick healthcare decisions. Similarly, with AI, the large amounts of data needed for real-time rapid learning require ultra-reliable and high-bandwidth networks. 5G also will provide a means to quickly transmit large data files, such as those from a PET scanner, that can generate files of up to 1 gigabyte of information per patient.
Once 5G Is Operational, Here Are Some Changes in Healthcare That We Can Expect:
Telemedicine Becomes Mainstream
Anyone who's dealt with the pain of dragging oneself out of bed to get a medical certificate for an employer when sick is probably already using or planning to use telemedicine. Whether you are geographically isolated, tired of waiting hours in a waiting room for an overdue appointment, or simply have felt the pain of dragging yourself from your sick bed to a doctor’s surgery to acquire a sick note for an employer, the attraction of telemedicine is clear. Telemedicine can also increase access to specialists and collaboration between health professionals.
Lorenzo Pengo, health care industry lead at Microsoft, explained that it costs around $250k each year for each hospital bed and painted a picture of virtual care where hospitals will become ICU's for conditions that cannot be treated remotely.
Telemedicine Health tech startups such as mediconecta and couch are creating new stand-alone services for remote care and other providers are adding it to existing services. Yet, telemedicine requires a network that can support real-time high-quality video, which often means wired networks. 5G can offer this stability.
The Autonomous Car as a Health Clinic
Automotive companies are pushing the idea of the autonomous car as the third most important tech of the future. This essentially creates a moving room where mobility as a service means a vehicle’s utilization expands to a range of tasks, including doctor’s visits. This could include a self-driving clinic such as that proposed by AI health for remote areas, minimizing the logistical burden on the patients, and makes them more likely to engage in their care before conditions and costs escalate.
Such a clinic would be embedded with sensors to gain accurate biometrics of the consumer through a self-guided assessment. If the results indicate that the patient needs to consult a specialist, the Aim platform would connect the user to one of the on-call specialists from participating fleet partners.
Increased Use of Wearable Health Tech in Partnership With Health Care Providers
33 percent of US consumers utilize wearables, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers, to play a more active role in managing their health. Wearables can in the example of an elderly patient, track sleeping habits, heart rate, and detect falls and departures from home, providing a wealth of knowledge for any health professional that made exceed what they'd get in a brief consultation.
5G Will Help AI in Healthcare Become More Acceptable
While no one is using AI as a replacement to health professionals, yet, the combination of AI, machine learning, and 5G was a prominent interest of many at the conference. There are numerous examples where AI can act as a second opinion, such as Enlitic's use of machine learning in radiology, which can make reading X-rays faster, more accurate, and provide a second set of eyes as well as triage. AI can also pick up on errors — startup MedAware uses big data analytics and machine learning algorithms to analyze large-scale data of Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) and detect prescribing errors. These are both significant innovations — one conference speaker reminded the audience that medical mistakes are the third cause of death in both the US and EU.
One conference participant shared the scenario of a snake bite and how 5G and AI can provide a means to accurate treatment. Snakebite causes over 100,000 human deaths and 400,000 victims of disability and disfigurement globally every year, affecting poor and rural communities in developing countries, which host the highest venomous snake diversity and the highest burden of snakebite due to limited medical expertise and access to antivenoms. Antivenoms can be life-saving when correctly administered but, since many are species-specific, this depends first on the correct identification of the biting snake. Researchers are creating Snapp, the first medical decision-support mobile app for snake identification based on artificial intelligence and remote collaborative expertise in herpetology. The app will combine computer vision with the expertise from a network of herpetologists to identify photos of snakes, particularly supporting victims and clinicians when urgent and reliable snake identification is needed
It'll be while until 5G is rolled out in any kind of widespread capacity, across all regions and countries. But health practitioners and health technologists are ready and waiting for the opportunity to make life-saving health care become a reality.
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