With the huge array of benefits it poses to society, connected health is most certainly one of the most exciting use cases for 5G. A report by 02 has even gone so far as to state:
- Local councils could collectively save £2.8bn through efficiency savings, particularly in reduction to social care costs facilitated by 5G telehealth and monitoring technologies.
- The NHS stands to reduce GP visits by 9.4 million by replacing 5% of appointments with telehealth video conferences, as well as the adoption of wearable monitoring devices.
So what’s been going on in the UK with digital health? A few things….
Leading the way in Liverpool
Sensor City, a Liverpool-based research community for sensor technology, has been funded £3.5 million by the government to lead a consortium made up of public sector health suppliers, the NHS, university researchers, local SMEs and a leading UK 5G technology vendor.
The project will see high-value technologies including low-cost open source 5G networks, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and IoT deployed across deprived communities in the Liverpool City Region test bed.
The consortium will use this technology to reduce the digital divide, while measuring the impact on patient monitoring and support, management of loneliness in older adults, aid to independents living in the home and the facilitation of communication between hospitals and the community.
Smart healing in Swansea
The University of Swansea is leading trials into ‘smart bandages’ which use real-time 5G technology to monitor how a wound is healing and help doctors keep track of patients’ activity levels.
Experts in nanotechnology are developing the tiny sensors while 3D printers at ILS would be used to produce the bandages which would bring down the cost.
It forms part of the £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) Swansea Bay City deal which aims to create a 5G test hub for digital innovation.
Professor Marc Clement, Chairman of Swansea’s Institute of Life Science (ILS), said, “5G is an opportunity to produce resilient, robust bandwidth that is always there for the purpose of healthcare.”
He told the BBC, “It would connect [a]wound to a 5G infrastructure and that infrastructure through your telephone will also know things about you – where you are, how active you are at any one time.
“You combine all of that intelligence so the clinician knows the performance of the specific wound at any specific time and can then tailor the treatment protocol to the individual and wound in question.”
Telcos and tech
Innovations from around the globe from companies that are big hitters in the UK could make a vast difference in the state of the nation’s telehealth. Nokia has been working on such things as the first 5g hospital in Oulu, Finland and a cancer detecting scanning advice that will pick up on biomarkers that indicate the conditions needed for abnormal cell growth to happen. It is also working China Mobile Research Institute on a 5G connected ambulance.
Meanwhile, Ericsson and researchers from King’s College London have teamed up to develop futuristic 5G applications, looking at music, medicine and everything in between. They are particularly interested in transferring physical skills across networks; something they call the ‘Internet of Skills’. At the 2017 Mobile World Congress, the team showcased various demonstrations, one of which allowed visitors to try on a haptic glove connected to sensors on a patient, simulating a remote health examination as an example of how the tactile internet can support mission-critical tasks.
It is clear that while much is possible with existing technologies, to realize all the benefits of 5G technologies, cross-industry research and collaboration will help innovation and preparation for the possibilities within healthcare.