This report explores the impact of 5G on the healthcare industry. It illustrates the benefits and example use cases, as well as quantifying the potential efficiency gains, that 5G will enable.
The healthcare industry needs to use technology better
The challenges facing the healthcare industry
The landscape of the healthcare industry is changing on a global scale. Populations, including in developing markets, are growing, ageing, and increasing in wealth. This brings new challenges to healthcare providers. It brings a shift towards the management of non-communicable and chronic diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and cancer, and moves away from the treatment of infectious and acute diseases. This holds true even in many emerging markets where the treatment and prevention of, for example, malaria, dysentery, and yellow/dengue fever has advanced significantly over the past decade.
Why does this trend towards the management of NCDs and a growing population create difficulties for healthcare providers? It comes down to a lack of resource in the industry:
- A lack of medical professionals, including both general and specialist practitioners: as populations continue to grow and age, the ratio of patients to doctors becomes increasingly strained. The shift towards NCDs also begins to blur the lines between healthcare and wellness. Primary care practitioners, therefore, have more demands on their time as patient wellbeing becomes a bigger part of their role. Furthermore, this decrease in specialist availability and shortage of skills leads to longer wait times for treatment.
- A lack of infrastructure: as well as the number of available medical professionals, the accessibility and scale of infrastructure is a key issue facing the healthcare industry. Patients, especially in rural areas or developing markets, may not be able to travel the distance to their nearest healthcare premises. As well as the patient, it can be difficult to transport medication and equipment to these locations, leading to limited availability of and access to often life-saving treatments. This can also increase waiting times for patients, as more individuals are constrained to using the same infrastructure.
- A lack of budget: In most markets the healthcare industry is facing funding constraints. While budgets globally are increasing, they are often not increasing proportionally to the growing expense of treating an ageing and growing population. This is not a sustainable model as budgets cannot increase in perpetuity. On top of this, government bodies and regulators are implementing more stringent targets and codes of conduct on healthcare professionals with at least some budget contingent upon hitting targets.
The role of technology in driving efficiency
Improved healthcare efficiency is required to address the challenges above and the digital transformation of healthcare, through better and more proactive patient management, is a way to achieve this.
The key to unlocking efficiencies is the generation of richer information and insight, and the ability of users to have simple and real-time access to that information so that better decisions can be made faster. Four key technological pillars underpin these two change drivers.
The four pillars of technology that will help in driving efficiency
Source: STL Partners
Information and insight
- Data: Big Data and its potential value in bringing new insights to organisations has been hyped in recent years across many industries. In healthcare, the hope is that as technological advances allow richer, more granular, and higher quality data to be collected on patients (e.g. blood glucose levels, blood cell/haemoglobin counts, HD video), treatment processes will become more effective. This includes a shift to preventative care rather than expensive treatments that seek to cure or care for patients with chronic conditions.This has already been seen at scale in wellbeing and consumer wearables (e.g. Fitbit). By collecting data on themselves (e.g. heart rate, calories burnt, steps taken etc.) through e-health devices, end users have better insight into and management of their own wellness – leading to a healthier population with less strain on the healthcare system.
- Analytics: better collection, management, and analysis of patient data will lead to significant improvements in treatment processes. The insights gathered from the data will allow patients to have a bigger role in their own care, some level of personalised/tailored care, and give epidemiologists a better understanding of health trends to make more informed and proactive decisions. Examples of analytics and AI being used in healthcare include the analysis of images (e.g. MRI scans) to diagnose patients with a high degree of certainty, or Google DeepMind’s application for the early identification of acute kidney injury (AKI)8. Both these use cases significantly speed up time to diagnosis, limit the constraint on specialist time, and increase patients’ chances of survival.
Looking further into the future, information and insight may not be constrained to just patient data. Healthcare enterprises will begin to use, for example, environmental data and socio-economic data in conjunction with medical/patient data to create richer pictures of population health. This will enable healthcare providers to make better, more proactive and more bespoke decisions, in real-time.
Access and integration
As useful as having more information is, if those who need it cannot access the information at the right time, its value cannot be derived. The industry will therefore need:
- Management: to be valuable, information sources on patients need to be integrated into existing systems (to make access and user experience as simple as possible) and accessible to only the right people at the right time. Furthermore, data will often be collected by different end devices produced by different 3rd party manufacturers – these data sources will need to be “translated” and converted to the same format to allow analysis across the entirety of the patient’s electronic medical record (EMR). This would ideally be through a unified platform/portal to avoid data siloes with partial views.
- Connectivity: underpinning the digital transformation of the healthcare industry is connectivity – allowing information to be transferred safely, securely, and at the right time, between geographically distant locations to those who need to access it. Connectivity solutions such as 4G, Wi-Fi, and eventually 5G, help bridge the distance between healthcare providers and patients.
By addressing these key pillars, the healthcare industry can transform its current processes and drive efficiencies. It can become more proactive in managing and triaging patients, limiting the number of individuals who require acute, more expensive treatment options. In turn, this will provide better access to healthcare expertise for those who need it and more effective use of healthcare resources.
The role of 5th generation (5G) networks in digital transformation
The healthcare industry remains one of the least digitised sectors worldwide, with many hospitals and practices globally still running paper-based operations. There are three reasons for this:
- Lack of IT budget and knowledge: healthcare providers have limited resource and expertise to explore, develop, implement, and manage new digital solutions.
- Variation in systems and technological maturity: as mentioned above, there are hospitals even in developed markets which are still using paper-based systems to conduct their operations. However, others are using electronic medical records (EMR), online scheduling systems, and diagnostic applications to augment their daily activity. This disparity between systems makes developing, implementing, and integrating new technology at scale difficult.
- Reliability and security: making better use of data is key to improving the healthcare industry. However, this brings its own series of challenges, including maintaining the highest level of confidentiality and data privacy. Additionally, to reap the benefits of digital transformation, healthcare professionals will have to rely on technology for many mission critical processes. Therefore, if the technology fails, patient lives could be at risk. Healthcare providers will need the highest level of reliability of service which, to date, has been lacking for many digital use cases.
5G has generated a buzz due to the promise of helping solve some of the issues above and enabling new and improved use cases which will drive the benefits realised by the industry. This is both due to the capabilities of the technology itself9 as well as its ability to catalyse a chain reaction of digital transformation. Those within the healthcare industry feel that 5G, and the hype around it, will help drive the innovation, adoption and implementation of new technologies and solutions. This report will look to explore and quantify the benefit of 5G on the healthcare industry, as well as highlight the practical next steps towards implementation.
Table of Contents
- Executive summary
- Technologies’ role in the healthcare industry
- The challenges facing the healthcare industry
- The role of technology in driving efficiency
- The impact of 5G on the healthcare industry
- What is 5G?
- 5G’s relevance in the healthcare industry
- New use cases and applications enabled by 5G
- 5G could bring global savings of c. $90 billion in 2030
- Next steps for the healthcare industry
- The role of governments and the power of incentives
- Collaboration with the telecommunications industry
- Key recommendations for the industry
Table of Figures
- Figure 1: The four pillars of technology that will help in driving efficiency
- Figure 2: The benefits of 5G to the healthcare industry
- Figure 3: The role of 5G in driving efficiency
- Figure 4: 5G use cases for the healthcare industry
- Figure 5: Mapping healthcare use cases to 5G’s capabilities
- Figure 6: Mapping remote patient monitoring to 5G’s capabilities
- Figure 7: Estimated global impact of remote patient monitoring (2030)
- Figure 8: Mapping virtual consultations to 5G’s capabilities
- Figure 9: Estimated global impact of virtual consultations via HD video (2030)
- Figure 10: Mapping connected ambulance to 5G’s capabilities
- Figure 11: Estimated global impact of connected ambulances (2030)
- Figure 12: Global impact of 5G on healthcare (annual cost savings USD billions)
- Figure 13: Relative impact of 5G by country income level in 2025 and 2030
- Figure 14: 5G’s impact on SDGs for healthcare
- Figure 15: Estimated global impact of 5G by region across key contact points
- Figure 16: Table of 3GPP 5G standards releases
- Figure 17: Telcos will have a role beyond connectivity
- Figure 18: Telcos can play further up the value chain