Increased access to care through technology promises a healthier, more connected future.
By Anne-Frances Hutchinson
Healthcare systems are increasingly transitioning into a value-based model of care, which, simply put, provides better care outcomes at lower costs. CMS anticipates that healthcare spending in the US will represent 20% of our GDP and devour almost 40% of the government’s total budget by 2025. However, that spending doesn’t mean our citizens are healthier—far from it. We spend roughly 2.5 times more per capita on healthcare than the 35 other member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, but life expectancy in the US is lower, more people over 65 are struggling to live with multiple chronic conditions, and our infant mortality rate is higher than 33 out of 36 OECD countries.
In paying healthcare providers and manufacturers based on the outcomes of care, value-based care and reimbursement can move the needle in line with GDP growth while saving as much as $650 billion by 2025. Value-based care can also help stanch the flow of unnecessary services and wasteful administrative practices that cost the US healthcare system an estimated $1.4 trillion every year, according to Goldman Sachs.
The power behind a healthier populace and a more sustainable healthcare system will be carried, in large part, by ultra-high speed 5G network technology.
“The healthcare industry, driven by value-based care and increased consumerization, is set for a paradigm shift that will put a much greater focus on connectivity and access to data. Across every facet of health care, from care innovation to reimbursement model transformation to decentralization of care, speed to data is critical to the digital evolution of health.” This analysis by Scott D. Boden, MD, vice president for Business Innovation for Emory Healthcare, zeroes in on the fundamental promise of 5G.
Boden leads Atlanta’s Emory Healthcare Innovation Hub (EHIH), which this year entered into a strategic partnership with Verizon to create the country’s first 5G healthcare innovation laboratory. The EHIH ecosystem enables multinational industry players to explore the promise of 5G, from medical training via augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), to point of care diagnostic imaging, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, and is powered by Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service.
“The 5G spectrum allows users to transmit large packets of data—high throughput—with less lag time in signal transmission—low latency—yielding high reliability. 5G enables network slicing, the partitioning of a single physical network into multiple virtual networks, which will be extremely valuable for telemedicine, virtual surgery, and other critical clinical uses,” explained Jonathan Fritz, JD, Chief Innovation Officer, College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME).
“A healthcare organization with a private 5G network will be able to better manage the peaks and valleys of demand, and no longer be constrained by capacity limitations. This could open the doors to innovative approaches that connect multiple data sources, allowing hospitals to provide better care to patients, thereby managing the increased proliferation of Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) devices,” he added. 5G’s ultra high speed and low latency may also help to make reliable and convenient remote care a reality.
Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center and the Rush System for Health are working to create the first 5G-enabled hospital in the country in partnership with AT&T. “We strongly believe 5G is a game-changing technology that when fully implemented will help us support better hospital operations as well as provide the highest quality patient and staff experience,” said Dr. Shafiq Rab, senior vice president and chief information officer of Rush University Medical Center and the Rush System for Health.
Rab also serves on the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service healthcare IT modernization project’s technical advisory committee, which is tasked with filling gaps in the Indian health system. One of 5G’s most compelling promises is expanding reach and connectivity in remote locales.
“High-speed, low-latency 5G technology will help enable care to be delivered virtually anywhere at any time. The technology will enhance access to care, even from long distances, while also helping to decrease costs and improve efficiency. Imagine sometime in the not too distant future, for example a doctor performing a virtual visit with a patient while downloading an entire MRI scan within seconds,” he noted. Another great use for the 5G technology is for patients who opt to book their medical scans without the need for a referral – such as private MRI scans – can then easily download or share their results with their GP or doctor.
The potential to extend on-demand care to remote areas and underserved populations is significant, and one that mobile giant Ericcson is exploring. Together with partners from King’s College London, Tianjin University, China Mobile Research Institute, Industrial Research Institute, and CMCC Tianjin, the company demonstrated the world’s first tele-operated robotic surgery using a 5G network in a laboratory setting. According to the firm, the telesurgery combined haptic sensing and a transluminal surgical system, network slicing, edge computing, low latency, and large bandwidth to deliver intelligent sensing and human-machine interaction.
The potential to reshape healthcare provision is tremendous, but we have a great deal of ground to cover before widespread adoption becomes reality. While 5G can offer more bandwidth, implementation of 5G will require new infrastructure, and a host of compatibility issues will need to be resolved. Healthcare visionaries are working the problem with the ultimate goal in mind: providing care that helps us live longer, healthier lives through technology.
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