September 17, 2018

How 5G could improve patient care from emergency services to physical therapy

5G will pave the way for medical breakthroughs that could save lives. With ultra-fast internet and quicker response times, all kinds of innovations in healthcare become possible. Here are just five ways 5G could revolutionise care for patients.


Connected Ambulances

Paramedics transporting patients to the hospital typically brief A&E staff once the ambulance arrives. But in a 5G-connected ambulance, emergency crews will be able to collect critical patient data and share it with the A&E in real time, even before they arrive at the hospital. Emergency doctors and nurses will be better prepared to receive the patient, which means a smoother, more efficient handover process.

Today, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) – smart devices that can exchange data over a network – we’re already starting to see how connectivity can improve care even before patients enter the hospital.

IT services company Kinseed, for example, developed an IoT application to enable Great Ormond Street Hospital to monitor patients while in transit. Kinseed’s MediConnect devices enable hospital consultants to analyse and track patient data in real time, securely and reliably, via Vodafone’s Managed IoT Connectivity Platform. Kinseed is in talks with other hospitals interested in deploying this technology.


Route Optimisation

To get patients to the hospital quickly, ambulance drivers need to know which route is shortest and least congested. This can change depending on the flow of traffic. Applications that can help drivers identify the optimal route to follow could save precious time. With 5G, route optimising applications could be continually updated, providing ambulance drivers with the very latest data.

The Data Awareness for Sending Help (DASH) project, a collaboration between King’s College London and the London Ambulance Service (LAS), is already studying how dynamic traffic data could be used to improve the delivery of emergency services. In a May 2018 report, King’s College researchers recommended that LAS deploy TfL’s live traffic data sets to make even better routing decisions. Some LAS staff are already using their personal smartphones to access live traffic data, DASH researchers found.

Indeed, using routing estimates that take changing traffic flows into account could help to speed up LAS response times by 29%, according to a 2013 study by researchers at Birkbeck University.


Remote surgery

There are all kinds of situations where remote surgery is beneficial and could even save a life. When A&E patients require specific types of emergency care, such as neurosurgery for example, they may have to be transferred to a different hospital specialising in that area. This means there could be a long delay before the patient receives the necessary treatment.

But with remote surgery, surgeons will be able to operate on patients without having to be in the same location. By controlling a surgical robot that can perform tasks on their behalf, a surgeon can operate on a patient from afar. A potential stumbling block however is latency – the time taken for data to move across a network. This lag results in a delay between the time a surgeon moves a hand in a particular direction and the robot receiving the signal mirrors the movement. Although the lag lasts mere milliseconds, it could prove costly if something goes wrong during the procedure.

The low latency that 5G brings will make remote surgery a real possibility. In particular, the latency must be guaranteed with an upper limit of about 30 milliseconds, according to a paper on 5G and e-Health by the 5G Infrastructure Association. Remote surgery technologies are still under development, but surgeons today are already using remotely controlled robots to assist them with basic tasks in the operating theatre.

Rather than having to rely on a person to move a video camera around the organ that’s being operated on, surgeons can use a robotic limb instead. The use of robotic systems in surgery could reduce the amount of time spent performing the procedure by up to 20%, according to OR Productivity, a manufacturer of robotic systems used in surgeries.


Remote patient monitoring

Remote monitoring technologies enable patients to share vital data with their health care provider from home, instead of having to make frequent trips to see a nurse or physician.   Medical experts are exploring the benefits of using these technologies in a range of specialties, and the results so far are promising.

Consider patients suffering from heart failure. This is a long-term condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood effectively, resulting in symptoms like breathlessness, exhaustion and swollen legs. Home telemonitoring – combined with structured support by telephone – could lower the risk of mortality and hospitalisations, according to a review by Cochrane, a UK-based non-profit formed to organise medical research findings.

Patients with heart failure aren’t the only ones who could benefit from remote monitoring. A company called Medisanté, based in Switzerland, is working to help patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. Powered by Vodafone IoT, Medisanté’s connected devices allow patients with chronic illnesses to capture and transmit data such as their blood pressure to their health care providers without relying on a smartphone or an app. As most chronic patients are elderly, and may not feel comfortable using apps, connected devices that can send data automatically are especially useful.

In a 5G future, as patient data is collected and shared in real time, it may be possible for caregivers to get in touch with patients before they become ill.


Virtual reality rehabilitation

Many patients find it difficult to stick to a regular schedule of physical therapy. They are in pain, and having to do the same exercises over and over again also gets dull after a while. To motivate patients to keep up with their physical therapy, some specialists are turning to virtual reality (VR).

VRPhysio, a company based in Tel Aviv, has developed a VR platform to make physical therapy more enjoyable for patients. Eran Orr, founder and president of VRPhysio, is a former pilot who, after suffering a whiplash injury, was inspired to create a VR activity that helps people recovering from whiplash. Patients with whiplash need to exercise their necks, and by wearing a VR headset and playing a game that VRPhysio developed, they are encouraged to perform repetitive exercises in a fun and engaging way.