by Rajen Vagadia
VP and President, Qualcomm India & SAARC
The Covid-19 pandemic has put India’s healthcare systems under enormous strain over the past year. It has underlined, among other things, the need for better resources management and sharing of medical data – within the healthcare fraternity and with the government, to enable learning and also optimization of available critical resources like ICU beds and Oxygen. More recently, the nationwide vaccination drive has made the people and the authorities realize the need for having reliable, robust online systems and apps that are accessible to all and which can support huge loads, without crashing, resulting from sudden spikes in online activity.
Meanwhile, with Covid-19 cases surging in many parts of the country, and with people keen to observe social distancing, a sizeable percentage of medical consultations are either happening over the phone or through video. The quality of these interactions, naturally, depends on the broadband connection. In recent years, faster connection speeds have transformed the doctor-patient relationship with the help of smartphones and tablets. However, although the current 4G/LTE connections suffice for basic tele-health consultations, 5G offers a much better service and experience, for such bandwidth-heavy, low-latency data transmissions, both for urban and rural markets.
Better access to life-essential services and facilities for rural populations
Rural India, which lags the country’s urban centers on several socio-economic fronts, also suffers from relatively inferior infrastructure for connectivity and healthcare. Consequently, the rural population is affected worse than others when a nationwide calamity befalls upon them. The good news is that an increasing number of people in rural and semi-urban areas have come to own smartphones and have adopted digital tools over the years. What they need – and they deserve – is better wireless connectivity and access to online services in essential areas such as education, energy, finance and, of course, healthcare. The government and healthcare authorities, on their part, need technologies like 5G to enable reliable, high-speed delivery of the necessary services and facilities to this large populace.
XR and IoT for intelligent, “connected” healthcare systems
5G can support the development of new technologies for telemedicine and a wide range of applications for the healthcare industry. Today, extended reality (XR) enables tele-surgery, and the simulation of certain scenarios to address psychological issues. It has also proven to be effective in pain management and in creating highly immersive training tools for medical students and professionals. Apps and wearables based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) can leverage 5G and Machine Learning for health-related data analysis of medical diagnosis and emergency care. Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled medical devices and AI-powered data analysis can streamline health monitoring and create a fully “connected” hospital. IoT can also in driving greater efficiencies in auxiliary functions such as logistics and supply chain. 5G offers the high-speed stable bandwidth that enables all such solutions. In recent years, there has been an upsurge in wearable technology. Health trackers, portable health monitoring devices are being extensively used at home for patient care, with healthcare providers relying on data from these devices for predictive diagnostics, telemedicine, and emergency health preparedness. This has greatly improved patient care and reduced the cost of care. 5G can improve telehealth systems further and help in implementing electronic health record (EHR) programs. With recently observed challenges of shortage of hospital beds; remote health monitoring has emerged as a solution. Connected devices for homecare, will help reduce the ‘hospital-time’ thereby reducing the cost for the patient and also the load on the often stressed medical infrastructure, which can then be used for more serious patients, saving more lives.
Inbuilt capabilities for data management and privacy
Data management and privacy are two very important requirements of healthcare systems, with doctors, nurses, lab personnel, and emergency medical technicians sharing huge amounts of patient-specific information with each other. The security controls that are built into 5G meet these needs perfectly. Many healthcare systems today, although they are rich in data, are short on insights. Smart, 5G-based platforms can address this issue, too, by making data more visible and actionable and empowering clinicians and caregivers to make better, well-informed decisions. Such platforms can connect medical devices and clinical systems; collect and contextualize all the data that is generated; and securely integrate this data into other, related systems and applications.Promising start-ups are bringing AI based solutions, which today lack access to more database for refining the accuracy of their algorithms, can be offered anonymized data, collected across various hospitals and clinics. These solutions would severely reduce the rush to urban centers, as not rural India will have access to these very dependable solutions, which are able to carry out the diagnosis remotely.
Benefits for insurers and consumers
An ecosystem of smart connected devices and intelligent sensors enabled by 5G can also greatly benefit the insurance sector. Risks can be minimized, and disasters averted, with improved data communication between IoT devices and insurers. Exchange of data between healthcare providers, fitness and medical trackers, patients and health insurers can help in the creation of customized health and life insurance products for consumers. More data will lead to greater accuracy in insurance quotes, which will drive down premiums. 5G-based IoT and AI systems and devices will help consumers maintain good health by monitoring vital signs and identifying symptoms in time, reminding and scheduling regular check-ups, reducing the stress of manually filing for claims, and ensuring syncing of data between consumers, hospitals and insurance companies – all while maintaining the highest levels of privacy and data security.
A platform for medical and technology professionals to jointly transform healthcare
5G will enhance the security and data privacy capabilities that 4G/LTE technologies have already laid the foundation for. It will also reduce latency significantly, allowing for wider use of Edge Cloud solutions and artificial intelligence, and enhancing the precision and speed of healthcare systems. 5G has the potential to transform healthcare as we know it, make it more data-based and personalized. The lessons learned from current healthcare crisis will help us develop high effective, scalable, and widely accessible solutions that will improve various aspects of India’s healthcare system and help in managing future crises better. For this, the industry needs up-to-date, secure, reliable, and fast networks and platforms to support a connected healthcare ecosystem that will have active contributions by, and collaborations between, medical professionals and technology providers. There is no better platform today for doing this than 5G and no better time than now. Technology has saved us in these times and will save us better with 5G.
(DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and ETHealthworld.com does not necessarily subscribe to it. ETHealthworld.com shall not be responsible for any damage caused to any person/organisation directly or indirectly)