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How 5G in healthcare can help the IoT

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By Nick Parrotta- President, Digital Transformation Solutions (DTS) and Chief Digital and Information Officer at HARMAN

At a time when demand for medical services is steadily on the rise, resources are limited and the need to rein in costs at its highest; the Internet of Things (IoT) holds the promise of a panacea in the healthcare sector increasing its reach, efficiency, interoperability, accuracy, and value. IoT has the potential to disruptively transform the healthcare industry by reimagining how human beings and devices interact to deliver fast and reliable healthcare solutions. Wirelessly connected wearable and implantable devices like fitness bands, blood pressure and heart rate monitors, and glucometers to remote monitoring and even surgery of patients across continents–the IoT has made a lot of it a reality.

The pace of the medical electronic market has grown exponentially over the last few years and is expected to rise to 6.90% by 2030. However, it is important to note that none of this would have been possible without the power of connectivity.

All of these advancements are dependent on network connectivity and speed. Uninterrupted connectivity forms the backbone of IoT in healthcare and 5G forms the elixir for this backbone.

This 5th-generation telecommunication technology, when fully implemented, is poised to be the biggest transformation in mobile technology than any previous generational shift. Its envisaged speed, capacity, promise of reduced power consumption and zero latency, will make possible an incredible range of innovative new products and services.

Early tests have indicated that 5G networks will be as much as 100 times faster than today’s mobile technology. For the healthcare sector, in particular, 5G has the potential to act as a boon as it can connect an entire network of devices with its smaller, more densely-deployed, antennae. With bandwidths measuring in gigabits the Internet of Things (IoT) will finally be able to deploy its truly disruptive applications, ones that have users salivating. Today’s IoT offerings are often forced to be simple, and sometimes even bordering on gimmicky. But a fully connected residence of the future holds promises of sensors that monitor, and devices that assist– everything from mobility to medication will allow people to live healthier and more comfortable lives in their homes for longer.

Symbiotic robots, 3D-printed prosthetics, mood monitors, and tele-health services, will all be included in smart homes of the future. But it will be 5G speed, reliability, energy efficiency and low latency that will allow them to function seamlessly. Here’s a look at some benefits 5G-powered IoT will potentially bring for the healthcare industry:

1. Increased use of wearable devices: As the demand for health wearables increases so does the need to keep these devices connected to cloud-based software. This cloud architecture enables the collection, analysis, and transmission of health data in real time. These wearables are aimed to improve the monitoring of patients covering everything from basic fitness to chronic health conditions. In recent years, there has also been an increased demand for implants–from pacemakers, to neurostimulators and infusion pumps–especially amongst senior patients. All these devices work smoothly when connected to uninterrupted smartphones and hospital trackers so that front-line responders are alerted in case of any emergency.

2. Better remote healthcare: 5G has potential to open new horizons for telehealth and remote patient monitoring to happen at scale through the promise of speed, greater reliability and security of the service. These improvements will allow patients in quarantine or based in remote locations to get unfettered monitoring by healthcare providers. With 5G approaching transmission speeds of 15 to 20 Gbps, this will ensure better real-time videos or live chats. It will also be possible to reduce in-clinic visitations, thereby reducing queues and lower the chances of contracting infections.

3. 24/7 monitoring and faster diagnosis: The 5G network enabled-IoT will allow for round-the-clock patient monitoring. This will help alert healthcare practitioners of impending episodes–that range from low blood sugar, increased risks of heart attacks, or other vitals signs–that may need closer intervention. Constant monitoring will help in providing the right insights, make more precise diagnosis faster and thereby allow for more customized responses .

4. Easier, quicker transfer of data: Medical records of one patient may run into hundreds of gigabytes, and transferring these files to different locations seems to pose a big challenge currently. With instant transferring, capacity 5G promises to clear up the congestion that the medical field usually faces. Also with more devices being connected across spectrums, large data files will move swiftly ensuring that patients get access to the best advice promptly.

5. Infrastructure improvement: Healthcare has been blamed for delayed responses time and again. With well-connected IoT, crucial infrastructural improvements could be implemented. An ambulance that is connected to the cloud network can immediately respond to a health emergency in the area and a first-level report can be sent to the hospital even before the patient reaches the location.

It is clear from the above discussion that beyond smart homes and smart cities, the speed, capacity, and reliability of 5G networks will turbocharge new innovations in incredibly-impressive ways in the medical sector. While, the scale of predictions about the potential for 5G for healthcare is limitless, like many new technologies, there lie challenges in its journey — not the least of which will be how regulators and policymakers respond to both the opportunities and challenges. Yet, it is key that we pick up the pace in preparing for 5G, such that as a race, we are better prepared for any unprecedented event. The recent pandemic showed us just how susceptible we are to health emergencies and in technology like IoT, we might find an antidote. Healthcare systems around the world are investing hugely in research and development and IoT just might take us several notches up in that fight. What remains to be seen is how well the healthcare sector laps up this opportunity and makes healthcare accessible to all.

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