In an earlier blog, I set out how the 5G network will revolutionise vertical sectors such as manufacturing, where currently linear processes will become circular and continuously self-adjusting due to the new reliability, speed and bandwidth of the next generation network.
Another sector that is set to be transformed by 5G is healthcare. There will be major financial benefits in terms of opening up new business models and services. We anticipate that the digital health and telehealth markets in the UK will dramatically increase in value, from £3.3 billion currently to £315 billion by 2024. Alongside this, there will be significant savings to running costs for healthcare systems. At a time when the NHS, here in the UK, is under major cost pressure, these efficiencies and benefits will be just the cure we need.
With 5G, new commercial opportunities will open up to providers throughout the value chain. The demand and expectation for digital services and telehealth solutions will grow exponentially as today’s current linear process of diagnosis and treatment is radically changed.
Just as with manufacturing, today’s healthcare processes operate sequentially. An individual may feel unwell; they self-diagnose what the problem may be and if it is significant, they contact a health professional; the professional makes a diagnosis or perhaps refers the patient to another specialist; eventually, treatment occurs or medicine may be prescribed; notes are made in the patient’s records, which need to be actively looked up in the future.
One step follows another, and there are lots of potential inefficiencies or inaccuracies. The patient may form a clear but erroneous view of what is wrong with them based on their own internet research. They may have to wait some time for a consultation or examination with a medical professional. It may be some time before they see a specialist if a referral is made. When treatment is agreed, there may be another wait before it happens either in procuring the medication required or in waiting for a professional, such as a specific surgeon, to be available. Every step involves a delay and there is the potential for error to creep in.
With the 5G networks providing massively increased connectivity capability, traditional value chains in the healthcare industry will change. Through wearables and other devices, 5G sensors will be able to initiate the monitoring, assessment and reporting of an individual’s health signals with immediate diagnosis and much faster link-ups to medical experts.
This kind of monitoring is possible via 4G, but only on a small scale. 5G will enable it to happen on a mass basis – up to a million devices in one square kilometre.
With technology constantly monitoring our health and, through AI and big data, capable of making a certain level of diagnoses, the burden on GPs will be significantly reduced. We estimate that 5G could free up 1 million hours annually of GP time and produce £1.3 billion of productivity gains as a result. The average individual, meanwhile, will save over three hours a year of GP visits – also protecting themselves from potential exposure to viruses and infections in waiting rooms.
The always-on healthcare platforms that 5G enables will also automatically update individuals’ health profiles with the latest data and information. It will flag potential risks and areas of concern. When it detects an issue, it will notify the individual as well as close family as needed. If medication is needed, it will be able to order it automatically for us – and probably arrange delivery by a next generation drone!
As individuals, although we could initiate actions ourselves such as contacting a doctor if we wanted to, the system would activate care and diagnoses for us. A technology-driven safety net will be in operation around us. We will have peace of mind that we – and the ones that we love – are being continuously watched over.
The monitoring systems that 5G can support – including accelerometer sensors that monitor acceleration and movements – could lower the need for individuals to be placed in care homes, and decrease the dependence on carers and health visitors. This could help councils reduce their social care costs – we estimate by around £890 million a year – as well as lessen the considerable financial burden on families of putting a loved one in a care home. Given Britain’s ageing population – nearly 12 million people are aged 65 or over, and this number is set to grow – such innovations could hugely improve quality of life for a significant number of people.
In hospitals, 5G could also help to transform operations through tele-surgery. Initially, this might be where a leading expert watches an operation remotely and speaks ‘in the ear’ of the operating surgeon, giving them advice and guidance. The first tele-powered operation of this kind over 5G actually happened during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona earlier this year. Ultimately, the expert surgeon may be able to control robotic machinery through his or her own remote hand movements, effectively operating themselves on a patient on the other side of the planet – solving the problem I noted earlier of patients needing to wait for surgeons to be physically available and present. All of this will be made possible because of the reliability, quality and high definition of the 5G connection.
It may sound like a different world. But thanks to 5G, technology really does have the potential to look after your health in a system that never sleeps.