COVID-19 caught companies, communities and entire industries off guard—upending business as usual and prompting swift pivots to mitigate risk and save lives. As healthcare professionals race to adapt to this unprecedented crisis, many clinics, practitioners and everyday volunteers will require quick education and remote training opportunities to get up to speed.
To innovate and best support medical workers, we’ll require fast mobile connections, seamless data flow and lower latency. In this article, explore how mobile broadband, including 5G, can help as the country works to deliver the resources that communities and clinics need to respond safely.
Possibilities were already emerging in recent years: Gartner has consistently identified augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) as fast-growing trends, for example—with healthcare as a key application. 5G has the potential to accelerate these further. Other areas involving technology include video consultations and remote monitoring of vulnerable patients. Today, these tools could contribute to a variety of healthcare solutions during the pandemic and beyond.
Remote Consultations To Reduce Exposure
Stay-at-home mandates during the COVID-19 crisis mean that general practitioners must minimize face-to-face consultations. Due to the health crisis, Forrester recently revised an original prediction to forecast that virtual care visits could surpass 1 billion this year.
As more of these visits take place across a patchwork of commercial videoconferencing platforms and over wired as well as wireless connections, there’s an urgent need to enhance virtual services and care. In the future, 5G connectivity could play a big role: Video consultations with patients that involve large amounts of data, such as real-time analysis and transmission of medical images, could potentially see a boost in speed, insights and accuracy with 5G, especially in rural areas where adequate fiber broadband connections may not be available.
Remote Training For Faster, Safer Education
Because fast training is critical to the COVID-19 response, healthcare workers need alternatives to hands-on training that minimize risk exposure and face-to-face interactions. As one opportunity, expanding AR-based medical training systems could enable speedy and widespread remote education for healthcare workers.
Expanding AR-based medical training systems using real-time interactive 3D models could enable healthcare workers to build skills remotely. They need to get up to speed faster than ever, yet the experts who might typically train them are on the front line themselves. AR eliminates the requirement that instructors or human patients be physically present in order for trainees to develop competency in new tasks.
With the potential to generate visual overlays of images or diagrams onto real-world environments, providing sets of graphical instructions or even enabling shared vision for remote collaboration, an AR headset could transform learning scenarios in the healthcare field. Imagine doctors sharpening their situational awareness skills in simulated high-risk environments like an operating room, for example, or medical students using a patient simulator to practice procedures like preparing a patient to be placed on a ventilator. And beyond just training, AR could also guide medical practitioners through actual procedures like inserting IV lines using images of the vein structure.
To leverage AR’s full potential, however, networks must be fast enough to process large volumes of data in real time. As the confluence of AI with high-speed, low-latency connections via advancements in 5G and mobile edge computing starts to become more available, there’s the potential to create more realistic simulations without compromising responsiveness.
Patient-specific data, including imported MRI scans, can be integrated with the model to support surgeons during critical surgeries, while robot-assisted operations enabled by ultra-low latency could be used in tandem with AR for even more precision.
Remote Monitoring To Keep Vulnerable People Out Of Facilities
Elderly patients and others at high risk for contracting COVID-19 can benefit from remote monitoring, now used to alert care providers to detect falls, record movement, track symptoms and more. The use of personal monitoring devices allows providers to gather health data on patients to aid preventive care. And for patients at risk, remote monitoring ensures they’re hospitalized only if absolutely necessary. A report from STL Partners suggests that although adoption to date has been piecemeal, the current public health crisis underscores the need to accelerate transformation in healthcare.
Utilizing the high capacity of 5G to help provide at-home patient care could enable real-time biotelemetry for vital signs as well as other health indicators, freeing up resources while protecting professionals from excessive contact and risk. Ultimately, this could lead to better patient outcomes while allowing high-risk populations to stay at home longer. There is even the possibility of patientless clinics and hospitals, where all patients would be treated remotely.
Machine Learning For Unmatched Accuracy
COVID-19 also highlights the importance of big data in healthcare—particularly when it comes to using predictive modeling to guide life-critical decisions and monitor public health. Accurate testing and rapid processing of results are crucial as we seek to detect patterns of infection.
Recent advances in machine learning mean that computers can extract huge amounts of information from images, but this needs a high-capacity network to move the data around. With future advancements in 5G, AI technology could analyze the data closely—potentially spotting anomalies not easily detected by human experts. For example, early-stage cancer diagnosis is one area where AI combined with ultra-precise imaging shows promise for improving image detection accuracy, enabling a doctor to identify tumors not visible to the human eye. By using an emerging 5G network, healthcare professionals can eventually make the best use of machine learning-based diagnostic support, even when they’re not in a medical facility.
Will The Crisis Accelerate New Approaches?
Before 2020, the adoption of wireless-enabled medical practices was already underway, and the promise of 5G is adding a new dimension to this. We may start to see how our COVID-19 response accelerates some already-emerging trends in the field. Healthcare professionals will benefit from drawing on the widest possible range of tools as they learn new skills and provide lifesaving care. And as those medical heroes work tirelessly to improve outcomes for patients, 5G can aid them in the race to learn and respond to one of the most urgent challenges of our time.
To learn more about advances in connected care for vulnerable populations, read how telehealth expands care delivery to meet more patients’ needs.