COVID-19 and social distancing have changed society while blazing the trail for online healthcare in its wake. Fewer people are going to hospitals as more people seek medical help through the internet. Wireless communication plays a major role in this transformation toward telehealth, and 5G will greatly improve connectivity and real-time capabilities.
Types of Telehealth Services
The rise of online healthcare services has raised awareness about telehealth, which at one time referred to healthcare advice delivered over the telephone.
Here are some of the many applications associated with merging healthcare with the internet:
- Video conferencing for virtual consultations
- Remote patient monitoring (RPM) for analysis
- IoT wearables that track blood pressure, heart rate, and other processes
- Remote robotic surgery
- The Internet of medical things (IoMT) – a blend of medical devices and applications that can improve health care outcomes
- Digital communication through email, messaging or chat
Challenges of Telehealth in the 2020s
The main limitation of telehealth in a pre-5G world is network capacity. Many organizations lack the necessary bandwidth and transmission speed to meet the needs of telehealth on a mass scale. But when 5G becomes more widely available, organizations across all industries, particularly healthcare, will strengthen their networks with faster and more reliable connectivity. Internet speed will increase to 20 Gbps while bandwidth widens to support 10,000 times more capacity.
Another challenge for medical organizations is meeting government compliance with privacy laws and regulations. Hospitals will be generating large volumes of data that track information for confidential medical records. A wider use of remote monitoring devices, such as patient wearables, will demand even tighter data protection. Doctors will be using a broader range of data for analysis that leads to providing instructions through digital communications.
Various stakeholders, such as healthcare providers and insurance companies, are working toward the expansion of telehealth services. Government policy changes are expected this decade to clarify responsibilities involved with telehealth data collection. Modern telehealth pioneers must further face the challenges of consumers becoming comfortable with new technology, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
Bandwidth, Connectivity, and Security
The reason 5G will likely gain rapid adoption with the healthcare industry is because it facilitates seamless transmission for massive amounts of data. In fact, it was designed precisely to support robust data transmission of applications, such as telehealth. The rapid development of IoMT devices made for 5G will further contribute to the widespread adoption of telehealth.
Enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) will be an integral dimension of 5G to support real-time 3D video. Media streaming will be free of latency issues, making it more practical for webinars, meetings, and training sessions. Video conferencing can replace a large number of in-person hospital appointments. The convergence of 5G and devices designed for it will mark a new era in technology that sets new standards for industries, particularly healthcare.
Complex medical procedures, such as remote robotic surgery, will become easier to perform, thanks to more robust bandwidth and connectivity. Remote operations will save time, and in the process, help save lives.
Hospitals were already steadily moving toward telehealth prior to the pandemic. Many healthcare organizations were already preparing for 5G by working closely with telecom companies. The rapid growth of patient wearables that communicate directly with hospitals is clear evidence that the healthcare industry is merging with digital technology.
Real-time monitoring will play a significant role in new service models aimed at addressing health issues at a much faster pace. Traditionally, telehealth was focused on connecting with people in rural areas. But as both patients and healthcare organizations increasingly realize the benefits of virtual care, this pattern will continue and extend to include areas of all population sizes. Ultimately, 5G will solidify telehealth as a vehicle for more efficient, personal, and affordable patient care.