Sep 25 2018

How 5G and IoT Can Enhance the Patient Care Paradigm

A combination of new networks and connected devices will shift care to better meet patients on their terms.

With 5G networks on the way and the Internet of Things expected to grow rapidly, the health industry appears to be on the cusp of a new system of care.

The commercial launch of standardized 5G mobile networks is expected by 2020, though some networks are expected to be live in select U.S. cities as soon as the end of 2018. Beyond simply providing faster connectivity than today’s 4G networks, 5G networks will be able to accommodate more connected devices and monitor data prioritization, keeping less vital downloads from occurring immediately.

Deloitte estimates the global market for IoT in healthcare — a vast collection of devices and sensors that generate and transmit data — will increase from $40 billion in 2018 to $158 billion in 2022. Growth will approach 250 percent in North America and exceed 350 percent in the Asia-Pacific region.

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5G Offers a Path to Better Outpatient Management

While the combination of a better network and more connected devices will certainly improve care within the hospital, experts anticipate a bigger impact in other care settings — including the home.

“The vast majority of the impact of digital medicine is in outpatient management,” says Dr. Steven Steinhubl, director of digital medicine at the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “When you see a doctor, it’s sickness care, but what most people would like is to stay healthy.”

Dr. Steven Steinhubl, Director of Digital Medicine, Scripps Research Translational Institute
When you see a doctor, it’s sickness care, but what most people would like is to stay heathy.”

Dr. Steven Steinhubl Director of Digital Medicine, Scripps Research Translational Institute

This type of care will come in many forms, ranging from passive monitoring of at-risk patients to more active monitoring of high-risk or high-acuity patients. Even patients who present as healthy will benefit, Steinhubl said, as monitoring will help identify conditions they may be developing, though they show no outward symptoms of illness.

And for all patients, ongoing data collection can monitor everyday activities closely linked to health and wellness. “How does exercise help or hurt sleep? How does alcohol affect stress? There’s an impact, but it’s always measured in the doctor’s office, which is an artificial setting,” Steinhubl says.

Healthcare IoT Security Concerns Loom

Despite the promise, concerns persist. Security of IoT devices is one, especially if medical data is being transmitted. Another is quality of service, which matters just as much as increased bandwidth, says Dr. Joseph Kvedar, vice president of connected health at Partners HealthCare.

“If you put in an Amazon order and it doesn’t happen, the world doesn’t stop,” he says. “But if it’s your pacemaker, it’s a different matter.”

A third challenge has nothing to do with technology. Through fee-for-service models, Steinhubl says, healthcare has built an “infrastructure” geared to getting people into the hospital.

However, the practice of medicine is increasingly designed to support team-based care complemented by technology, Kvedar says. “We’ll get to a point where we have layers of different activity,” he says. “Chatbots, person-to-person messaging, IoT device data transmissions, phone calls and video calls.”

There will still be a lot of interaction in an office and a lot of face-to-face healthcare, but also a lot of asynchronous activity, Kvedar says.

We’re finding the right utility for IoT in the clinical process.”

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