How will 5G change patient engagement?

doctor-and-patient

Few things have fueled the hype curve more in recent years than the coming widespread availability of 5G transmission speeds on mobile devices. Many other telecommunications trends have been evolutionary, but I sense that 5G is seen by many as revolutionary. The healthcare industry could be a major beneficiary of this extra speed, given the millions of connected health devices and agents.

How is 5G better than what we already have?

First is the use of a higher frequency band radio spectrum. That aspect of the 5G architecture will make great amounts of bandwidth available, overcoming 4G’s traffic congestion and latency issues. Whereas 4G was 500 times faster than 3G devices, 5G is estimated to be 1000 times faster than 4G.

Secondly, 5G is supposedly more “intelligent,” and thus more efficient, than 4G. The 5G protocol is able to determine when it needs more or less bandwidth so that it can crank up quickly when it needs more processing power.

The healthcare industry is rightfully excited about the potential for 5G — it could be a game changer in the way connected care is dispensed to patients and delivered by clinicians. More and more patients are wearing remote devices for diabetes, heart monitoring or post-operative analysis. These devices, much like our mobile phones, can fall victim to a variety of signal distortions, outages and interference. In some cases, these patient-related limitations can quite literally be matters of life and death.

In addition, as healthcare technology evolves to an IoT model, more and more computing is done “on the edge,” where remote medical devices are talking to each other rather than to a human or to the data center.

With bandwidth speed, network intelligence and reliability all significantly improved, more complex clinical issues can be addressed more quickly than with latency-laden 4G devices. For example, a 5G heart monitor in an emergency setting will be able to increase to a 100 gigabyte processing speed when it senses that urgent clinical computing is needed, and then power down when things are calm.

There’s only one concern shared by both 5G providers and prospective customers — and that’s security. The ability to scale new security measures for an untested international bandwidth standard could be difficult. This challenge is no different than with previous communications protocols, but 5G has one distinct difference. If 5G is 1000 times faster than 4G, then security breaches can spread 1000 times faster over the new protocol. So the challenge becomes mapping security speed with the new processing speed.

Healthcare providers are especially sensitive to this concern for two reasons: First, private patient data currently sells for 10x on the black market, so a rapid spread can be disastrous from a trust perspective. Second and more important is that rapidly spreading hacks of medical devices can literally have a catastrophic effect on patients who depend on medical technology for their day-to-day health and well-being, whether they need in-patient care or simply have chronic ailments that need reliable monitoring.

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