5G and Healthcare

            Samsung recently announced the Galaxy S10, a phone with 5G capabilities. With all of the buzz surrounding 5G, it will be very interesting to watch how the S10 affects the market for phones and consumer electronics. However, it seems important to ask what is 5G and how will it affect other industries? According to PreScout,”5G is the fifth generation of mobile networking systems…it is expected to enable self-driving cars, drones and the download of movies in the blink of an eye”. Such an improvement in network performance could have massive effects on every industry. Qualcomm estimates that by 2035 there will be at least $12 trillion 5G related services. That is a massive market, and the changes are already starting. Beyond the Galaxy S10, T-Mobile says it will have 5G available nationwide in 2020, and AT&T promised 5G coverage in 19 cities by the first half of 2019. The effects of 5G will be here sooner rather than later.

Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 with 5G capabilities.

            While 5G is very commonly associated with capabilities such as self-driving cars and IoT devices, another industry that will be transformed by 5G is healthcare. According to a study done by IHS Market, over $1 trillion in healthcare offerings will be enabled by 5G. One area that will see massive growth is called telemedicine. Telemedicine is defined as “the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by telecommunications technology.” A great example of telemedicine came in 2001 when a surgeon in New York City removed a woman’s gallbladder in France. The surgeon was able to sit at a console and control an operating robot in real time. However, this procedure was only made possible by a transoceanic fiber-optic cable. 5G will eliminate the need for such a cable, thus connecting medical professionals to people everywhere that have 5G capabilities. Imagine being able to receive a medical diagnosis from a doctor halfway across the world from you. Further, 5G will boast much more consistent coverage than 4G, allowing patients living in rural and underdeveloped parts of the world access to the best healthcare coverage in the world. This will not only allow people to receive better medical coverage but will allow those living in areas with no medical coverage access to the best medical assistance in the world. The market for healthcare will expand exponentially.

Telemedicine will be able to connect Doctor’s with patients all over the world in real time, completely changing the healthcare industry.

            Another aspect of healthcare that will benefit greatly from 5G is the ability to send MRI’s and other complex medical images. Oftentimes these files must be sent to a specialist for review. However, these files take a long time to send and sometimes don’t even send at all. 5G network speeds would allow these images to be sent almost instantly. Reducing the lag time in file delivery would greatly reduce patient wait time, increase specialist productivity, and further allow specialists to work remotely. This, in turn, could lead to more accurate diagnosis, lower medical costs for the patient, and a larger market for specialists.

            Not only will 5G change specialist’s ability to study images remotely but with the expansion of wearable technologies, doctors will be able to monitor patients in real time. Imagine the apple watch on steroids. As opposed to spending time being monitored in a hospital, patients could be given a wearable sensor and monitored from home. This could greatly reduce medical costs and patient comfort. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have never met a person who likes being held overnight in a hospital. This capability would also be a huge benefit to the elderly, possibly allowing individuals to avoid going into assisted living for longer. Aside from monitoring patients who need treatment, the expansion of wearables may actually help prevent the need for medical help as well. According to Anthem, doctors say wearables increase patient engagement with their health by 86% and are predicted to lower hospital costs by 16% over the next five years.

The CareTaker monitor’s patients beat by beat blood pressure and heart rate in real time. This is only the start of wearable medical technology.

The Effects of 5G on Doctor’s and Hospitals

            As 5G slowly becomes more available it is safe to assume it will once again change the digital landscape. Moving forward, doctor’s will have to adapt to a completely new competitive environment. In the world of telemedicine and long-distance treatment, simply being the only specialist in a certain area will not be enough. Since patients can rely on essentially any doctor in the world, competition to gain clients will increase, and patients will receive better care. Further, I expect to see an expansion of large hospitals. These hospitals have the resources to create a truly global network and I think it’s very possible that in the years following 5G we will see a concentration of business into large global hospitals. Although, as is the nature of disruptive technologies I believe that the biggest changes to healthcare may come from innovation that we can’t even see coming. It will certainly be interesting to watch unfold.

            On a more personal note, I would like to conclude by giving a little information on how the change of the healthcare industry affects me personally. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was seven years old, and since have seen massive innovation in the healthcare space. When I was first diagnosed, many diabetics were still transitioning to insulin pumps (a device that administers insulin as opposed to receiving injections for every meal). Now I wear a pump that monitors my blood sugar and adjusts the insulin I receive accordingly, greatly reducing the amount of thought I have to put into my diabetes. As connected devices and telemedicine expand I am very excited to see how this changes my diabetes treatment personally. Hopefully, I will be one of the first to try some of the new diabetes-related technologies available!

Medtronic’s Minimed 670G, the pump I currently wear, was a huge advancement in diabetes technology. Hopefully, it’s only the start!

7 thoughts on “5G and Healthcare

  1. Cool post, hadn’t thought about the links between healthcare and 5G technology before. I’m taking an Econ elective this semester called Applied Health Economics, and one of the topics we are looking at is the costs-effectiveness of certain care strategies. As one might expect, often there are tradeoffs between cost, quality, and access, and this affects decision-making to the point where sometimes trying to prolong one’s life as long as possible is not the optimal health policy for society (think really expensive drugs that only marginally extend life… but this is very much an Econ lens to health). Basically, I wonder how 5G will affect these three components of cost, quality, and access. From your post it seems that quality may improve, but will the gains be enough to justify potential expense? Also, will the general population be able to afford and access such treatment options, or will they be locked out?

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  2. Hi Matt, very interesting post! When I first saw posts about 5G, healthcare did not immediately come to mind but it is very cool to see the implications that it has. I remember seeing articles about apps that allow patients to FaceTime with doctors to get a diagnosis for a simple illness and it seems that 5G is taking this to a whole new level with remote surgeries. Of course, there is the threat of hacking or a simple power outage to cause many problems with remote medical procedures, but seems like whether or not it is going to be the future! I wonder what precautions they are taking to prevent hackers from overriding these remote surgeries?

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  3. Great post! The potential for 5G to improve healthcare is extraordinary and I am excited to see advancements in the tech-health field in the future. Thank you for sharing your story of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and how you have experienced the technology improve first hand. Not only will 5G technology provide medical diagnosis from across the globe, but it also has the ability to improve people’s daily life. Like Sean mentioned in his comment, I am also curious to see the efficiency of these remote surgeries and how to protect these medical robotics products. Will someone be on stand-by (in person) incase something goes wrong? Very interesting topic!

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  4. Interesting. I’ve seen alot of healthcare IT being driven by diabetic patients over the past 20 years. In fact, I did my dissertation with a healthcare system launching a new EMR system, with the primary target of caring better for diabetic patients (mostly type 2, though).

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  5. Love the unconventional bridge you were able to make with 5G and healthcare, definitely wouldn’t be the first I thought of! I’d love to look more into how 5G will impact rural/underdeveloped areas, where advanced medical practices are sorely lacking.

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  6. Great post Matt! When I think about 5G, I think about having faster and stronger WiFi connections and processing systems. Clearly I am missing out on a much more important aspect of 5G. The healthcare implications are a great advancement, and I look forward to seeing what comes out of it. This makes me wonder though, is our infrastructure fully ready to support the speed and size of this change? I think it is because I don’t understand how it works yet, and plan to look into understanding if there will be problems with this new system.

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  7. Matt, this was fascinating. I read a post about 5G last week and that was pretty much the first time I had heard about it. This is a fantastic application of the network, and one I hadn’t given much thought to. My jaw dropped when I read the part about the doctor operating on the woman in France, and that was almost 20 years ago. Thinking about all the potential applications of 5G, I can’t even imagine how much this could benefit worldwide healthcare. Great post!

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