For decades, medicine and technology have walked hand in hand. With the advent of 5G, the relationship is set to become closer still. Members of the FreeMove Alliance are involved in a range of ground-breaking partnerships across several fields of medicine, to ensure the benefits of 5G technology are exploited to the full.

Global health services face growing challenges. As life expectancy increases the cost of patient care is rising to meet it. This has changed fundamentally the economics of both public and private healthcare.

However, technology is fighting back. Recently the growth in wearable devices has increased public awareness of health and wellbeing. And whilst these devices may currently provide only basic information, such as heart rate and sleep monitoring, future iterations may transform our approach to healthcare, both at an individual and global level.

Telekom Healthcare applies design-thinking approach to healthcare innovation

Telekom Healthcare Solutions is developing new technologies to drive healthcare digitalization by involving patients, medical staff, and healthcare institutions at the start of the process. Experts for healthcare digitalization agree that co-creation is key to the healthcare sector successfully adopting such trends as 5G, AI and IoT.

The design-thinking method, adapted for the healthcare sector, gives users’ requirements top priority. It links creative-thinking processes, and design workflows, with current technological, scientific, and economic approaches.

The results can be tested in point-of-care (POC) environments, under real-world conditions, in cooperation with partners and customers. Products that test successfully are then introduced to the healthcare market. This basic approach played a key role in the development of Medical Asset Tracking, a solution for the localisation of medical equipment.

The impact of Coronavirus

Governments were quick to recognise the role mobile networks could play in contact tracing to monitor the spread of COVID-19. However the pandemic has also highlighted the importance of emerging areas such as remote healthcare, and ensuring that, in future, health services are more responsive and adaptable. In France the virus triggered a rise in remote appointments from 1% to 11%, equal to almost a million patients per week.

As a faster and more reliable technology than its predecessors, 5G offers huge potential to provide health services with the tools they need to confront future pandemics.

5G and telemedicine

The growth of telemedicine is expected to increase rapidly with 5G.

In emergency cases 5G will better enable diagnosis and treatment from the ambulance itself, with first responders being able to transmit images and details of initial medical examinations to hospital staff in real time.

For non-emergency cases the vastly higher speeds and volumes of data supported by the 5G network, and the quality of video feeds and accessibility of patient information through connected devices will enable remote consultations to be applied in a far wider range of cases than is possible today.

In addition, the ability to quickly and securely exchange high-definition content, for example MRI readings, will allow multi-disciplinary teams to work more easily together, and promoting greater collaboration between institutions.

Telecom Italia uses 5G for remote surgery

Using 5G technology, Telecom Italia successfully performed remote surgery on a patient over 100km away. The procedure was shared globally with over 30,000 surgeons.

Rome-based professor Giorgio Palazzini used a VR headset to work alongside a medical team performing a laparoscopic procedure in a hospital in the city of Terni.

Palazzini played a central role in the surgery, observing the patient’s biometrics in real-time using three cameras broadcasting simultaneously from the operating theatre. He was also able to influence the procedure by zooming in and making key observations to guide the surgeons performing the procedure.

Elisabetta Romano, Chief Innovation and Partnership Officer at Telecom Italia, said the operator’s 5G Digital Business Platform, combined with robotics, AI and the Internet of Medical Things, are “opening up some exciting but challenging scenarios”.

Using 5G to improve patient follow-up

5G is also set to revolutionise ongoing patient care. Once discharged, patients will be able to receive far closer attention from doctors thanks to data transmitted from devices in their homes. This may include glucose monitors, wireless blood pressure monitors, or connected scales. Data will be sent quickly and securely to doctors, who can remotely adjust treatments, give advice, or ask patients to make new appointments.

Into the future. The ‘Internet of Medical Everything’

Just as ecosystems of connected devices work together to achieve greater overall efficiency and improvement, we are witnessing the emergence of an Internet of Medical Everything. By analysing data from everyday devices such as wearables, the potential exists to gather a clearer overall picture which could transform the delivery of health services. It is hoped that this will ultimately convert healthcare from a reactive to a proactive footing, by identifying and confronting trends and issues affecting public health at a nascent stage.

Mike Katz, Executive Vice President of T-Mobile for business believes firmly in the transformative potential of 5G on patient care:

“Imagine a future where technologies like AR and VR can be used to speed or even automate diagnosis, and consult patients on next steps through telehealth platforms. The sooner we can integrate that into our healthcare system with reliable network access, the better off patients and medical professionals can be.”

FreeMove Alliance. Leaders in 5G healthcare partnerships.

FreeMove was founded on the principle of collaboration. Of all the future applications of 5G, healthcare perhaps stands to be the greatest global beneficiary, if networks, partners, and healthcare providers pool their resources and work successfully together towards shared goals. What has become clear in 2020 is that the world faces an ever greater threat from emerging health crises. Our members are working tirelessly on programmes to ensure the benefits of 5G are brought quickly and efficiently to market.