Private networks in healthcare

Private networks can provide the robust connectivity that hospitals need to deliver higher quality patient care. This article highlights the challenges that the healthcare sector currently faces and how private networks can help to address them. It also explores the cutting-edge medical use cases enabled by private networks and their potential to digitally transform the healthcare sector.

Key drivers for adoption

The complex and critical nature of the healthcare sector means that accuracy, reliability and fast response times are crucial in all aspects of hospital operations. The spike in the number of hospital patients due to Covid-19 on top of the existing heavy patient loads has placed an added pressure on healthcare providers to make processes more efficient and improve the quality of patient care.

From a connectivity perspective, a lack of robust connectivity in hospitals can cause various challenges related to delayed information exchange, which leads to delayed diagnoses, extended treatment schedules, and longer waiting times, all contributing to below-standard patient experiences and outcomes. Existing (Wi-Fi) networks can often become congested due to a high density of people and devices, each competing for bandwidth. This can affect critical applications such as staff communication and patient monitoring that can potentially compromise patient care.

Additionally, a number of hospitals have experienced data breaches in their facilities, sparking concerns over the security of the public network. Another key driver for adoption of private networks is therefore to protect sensitive patient data from outside interference by excluding the public from using the network.

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Benefits of private networks in healthcare

Private 4G LTE or 5G networks can help to address the challenges faced in healthcare by providing the reliable connectivity hospitals need across facilities to ensure the smooth delivery of services. Firstly, private networks can provide reliable communications and exchange of information throughout the hospital and between healthcare staff, enabling faster response times and more efficient use of resources, which then translates to improved patient care.

The bandwidth and speed offered by private 5G in particular enables large volumes of data, such as medical images or patient records, to be transmitted quickly, enabling faster and more effective diagnosis and treatment, and saving on clinicians’ time. Private networks also present a much more secure alternative to public networks, helping to prevent data breaches and protect sensitive patient records from cyber threats.

Private networks also pave the way for several new mission-critical digital health use cases that have the potential to digitally revolutionise medical care. The low latency and high throughput of private 5G enables new modern medical practices that can bring about changes in healthcare similar to that of those brought about in manufacturing by Industry 4.0. Use-cases such as remote patient monitoring, AI-driven analytics and AR/VR adoption for training purposes can help hospital staff deliver higher quality and more personalised patient care.

  • Some of the use-cases enabled by private networks include:
  • Robotics for customer care (e.g. in waiting areas)
  • Flow analysis leveraging video analytics
  • Connected devices (IoT)
  • AR/VR for training and simulation
  • AR for remote assistance/expert
  • In-hospital patient monitoring
  • Staff communications
  • Environmental condition monitoring

For example, CCTV footage can be analysed using AI to better understand the movement of people throughout the hospital, helping to gain a better view of waiting times, busy areas and queue formation, with the aim of improving the patient and caregiver experience.

AR and VR can be used for training and education purposes. Specialists at different locations can provide their expert assistance via headsets and guide staff through complex tasks.

Private networks can be used to connect a range of IoT devices, wearables and sensors. For example, IoT sensors can be used to remotely monitor the temperature that drugs are stored at in medicine fridges, helping to reduce medicine waste. Sensors can also be used to monitor and improve air quality throughout the hospital.

Example private network deployments in healthcare

To date, there are relatively few private network deployments in healthcare but we highlight some example deployments below:

Bethlem Royal Hospital and Virgin Media O2

In 2022, Virgin Media O2 installed a private 5G network at Bethlem Royal Hospital in South London, the first hospital in the UK to deploy and use a private 5G network. The network enabled the start of new digital health trials that assessed the benefits of implementing various 5G-connected technologies, including IoT technology and augmented reality, in NHS hospitals.

One application of the network is the use of a 5G-connected e-observation app for clinicians to monitor and record patients’ vital signs digitally and in real-time. The private 5G network, in combination with Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud (DAC), will ensure high-speed and reliable connectivity to the e-observations platform. The result is to achieve much more efficient processes, as well as more accurate record-keeping of patient information.

Link here for more information

az groeninge and Proximus NXT

az groeninge hospital in Belgium, in collaboration with Proximus NXT, is deploying a private 5G network with the aim of testing new and innovative healthcare applications and setting a standard for the healthcare industry. A key focus area is remote patient care – the private 5G network has the potential to enable robotic surgery, the use of biosensors to remotely monitor patients, and the use of smart alerts for nurses and healthcare providers. Another application is the use of AR/VR to enhance medical imaging.

Link here for more information

Cleveland Clinic and Verizon Business

Verizon Business deployed a private 5G network at the Cleveland Clinic in Mentor, Ohio with the aim of improving patient care and providing secure and reliable connectivity to improve service delivery. The network will also be used to explore various new use-cases, including patient check-in kiosks, asset tracking and AR/VR adoption for clinician education, patient education, assisted surgery and imaging.

Link here for more information

Frankfurt University Hospital and Vodafone

Vodafone is deploying a private 5G network at Frankfurt University Hospital, with financial support from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) digital programme (an EU fund), with the aim of connecting doctors, nurses, patients and staff. Its high data rate, high capacity and low latency enables various new medical applications. The development of telemedicine use-cases is a key focus area.

Across Frankfurt Hospital’s multiple sites, the private 5G network will enable diagnostic data to be transmitted to where it is needed in real-time. Use-cases enabled include mobile ultrasound examinations, remote diagnosis, digital health records, and wearable biosensors enabling healthcare providers to monitor their patients in real-time.

Link here for more information

Eden Getachew

Eden Getachew

Eden Getachew

Consultant

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