5G in health: An enabler rather than a game changer

5GLIVE 5G in health panel discussion debrief

In a discussion with panellists from Altice (Portugal), TIM, BT and Clalit Health (one of Israel’s largest healthcare providers) STL Partners explored the impact of 5G in healthcare (see panel info here). The biggest 5G-specific takeaway from the panel was that the use cases they are focused on over the short term are more dependent on broad coverage of “good enough” networks across national geographies, rather than more powerful networks within hospitals or for healthcare professionals.

Of the use cases discussed only a few more experimental solutions such as using drones for prescription delivery were really dependent on 5G. For most use cases, both the telcos and Clalit Health emphasized that what’s really important is being able to monitor, triage, diagnose and treat patients remotely was the key to improving healthcare outcomes – and this cannot happen without reliable, high quality (4G, fibre) connectivity where the patients live. And without this, digital health solutions will not gain acceptance from patients and doctors.

Digital health use cases discussed with BT, Altice, TIM and Clalit Health

5G digital health use cases

What are the triggers for success?

  • Ability to reach patients: Ensuring that the patients who lack access to healthcare services, or could use remote triage and diagnostics solutions have access to reliable, high quality connectivity to support those services.
  • Gaining acceptance from end users: Nearly all panellists felt that convincing patients and healthcare professionals to adopt new technologies was a bigger challenge than technology, with Lucy Baker at BT estimating that in most projects implementation was 90% of the work, and technology 10%.
  • Co-creation: For both BT and Altice, co-creation alongside the operational staff (clinicians, radiographers, community nurses, care organisations) has been key to their ability to develop applications that solve real problems. BT has recently also created a dedicated healthcare commercial team to work with its customers in this sector.

The impact of COVID?

BT started off its recent healthcare initiatives with more of a 5G focus, developing a remote ultrasound solution used by paramedics out in the field and linking back to specialists in the hospital, providing full video and haptics to enable a remote diagnosis and triage. When the pandemic hit it catalysed an expansion in focus to tackle more immediate needs for remote diagnostics, both in a new temporary COVID-19 hospital and for community care teams.

For Altice, which COVID-19 has likewise proven a catalyst for its latest solution for assisted living, which it is currently deploying with a handful of care organisations providing formal services, but also plans to sell direct to consumers who wish to help elderly relatives live independently for longer. That said, this type of remote monitoring solution remains very new, and Alcino felt that the single biggest way to impact health outcomes would be through better data interoperability and sharing across healthcare systems.