Why Is 5G Important to Healthcare’s Future?

Megan Williams

Does 5G mean that small cell antennae will soon be hiding in your streetlights and trash cans?

That has yet to be established, but 5G is definitely breaking ground. We’re already seeing chatter of lightning-fast internet speeds and a budding carrier war, but why is 5G important for healthcare?

With the proliferation of EHRs, the continued impact of tech legislation, and rising patient expectations, healthcare is finally becoming a data-driven industry. Data’s new position as a key driver of care and administration means that 5G holds a particular promise — both positive and potentially negative — and that’s for a few healthcare-specific reasons.

Security Is a Major Issue

Security isn’t just another challenge in healthcare, it’s the space of a budding epidemic.

According to Healthcare IT News, healthcare holds the title as the sector most impacted by data breaches, with 18% of all breaches occurring in the industry. This doesn’t bode well for a space suffering from a lack of qualified IT talent, notes TechTarget — 5G knocking on hospital and practice doors only complicates things.

Faster speeds mean faster getaways for industrious hackers looking to make off with valuable and sensitive patient information, or to shut down critical care functions, holding out for healthcare organizations to pay a ransom. 5G is a new technology and we have yet to see or prepare for the implications it has for security.

Payments Are Still a Problem

It’s a generally held understanding in the industry that the earlier you can get a patient to settle their bills, the higher the percentage a provider will receive from the payment. In days past, when patients carried a smaller share of the healthcare payments burden, fast communication might not have been much of a concern. But things have changed.

Patient responsibility is steadily rising, with hospital revenue from patient financial contributions up a full 88% in recent years, cites RevCycleIntelligence.com. Why is 5G important in this context? The short answer is speed.

From apps to portals, providers are breaking ground in looping patients into the healthcare payments ecosystem. Faster and more efficient interfaces mean happier, faster-paying patients, but, as PYMNTS.com points out, 5G also opens the door to a new breed of automated (and often AI-enabled) tools that can communicate with patients in real-time.

Telemedicine Is Maturing

One of the most obvious healthcare-related implications of 5G’s increased speed and bandwidth (data rates that are 100 times as fast as 4G and LTE), falls under the umbrella of telemedicine.

The speed and capacity mean that physicians can share increasingly sophisticated information in real-time across larger distances, but also that more professionals can participate in any telemedicine interaction. That means not just improved access to specialists in remote or dangerous situations, it also translates to more diverse input on complex medical situations. Things are still shaking out, but it’s likely we’ll see faster change with government attention — FCC chair Ajit Pai recently sang the praises of 5G’s potential for telehealth applications.

HIT Infrastructure Is on the Cusp

Healthcare IT infrastructure is incredibly complex. The basics of secure data storage and communications are complicated by factors like the internet of medical things (IoMT) — devices like infusion pumps and pacemakers that directly impact human lives.

5G’s short wavelengths mean small antennae and a larger number of support devices — up to 100 per square meter. So along with faster telemedicine programs, we could see better support for the exploding number of devices in both clinical environments and patient homes, but also the layering of new technologies like imaging, cloud computing and even Wi-Fi 6 to create a new world for HIT infrastructure and support for the emerging smart hospital model, according to HITInfrastructure.com.

So will 5G be accessible across the board? That’s highly dependent on network rollouts from major carriers, shares PCMag, and on how quickly healthcare devices and organizational acquisition can catch up with the potential that 5G enables. Until then, we’re looking at yet another exciting shift in the world of healthcare tech innovation.

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