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Hospitals could be getting smarter with 5G

A lot of chatter surrounding fifth generation (5G) wireless networks is how much faster they will make mobile phones. However, 5G networks’ capabilities could be put toward something even more significant — making hospitals “smart,” Axios reports.

Deploying 5G wireless networks in hospitals could be game-changing in the medical field. Remote telesurgeries could become more common. Additionally, sensors and wearable devices could help deliver a patient’s vitals and medical information to a physician before they reach the hospital.

“We’re just at the beginning of the quantity of devices that are 5G enabled and that proliferation is going to be an incredible curve,” Jen Artley, senior vice president of 5G acceleration at Verizon Business, told Axios.

Verizon Business helped the Cleveland Clinic prepare to launch its first fully enabled 5G facility in July.

Additional benefits of 5G networks in hospitals

With 5G wireless networks, hospital staff can receive more accurate patient diagnoses faster. It would also be easier to share data and increase telemedicine. Additionally, virtual reality and artificial intelligence may be adopted sooner, and Internet of Things (IoT) devices could become even more prominent.

Increased speed is perhaps the biggest benefit of deploying 5G wireless networks in a hospital setting. With 5G, there’s a less than a millisecond delay vs. an approximate 70 milliseconds delay on a 4G network, according to Journal of the Society of Laparoscopic & Robotic Surgeons researchers.

“Having the ability to manage a network that knows how to handle a density of devices will be extremely important,” Artley said.

How 5G can elevate medical care

Dong Li, an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine, who studies 5G’s impacts, noted that trying to use a cellphone on an old network in a crowded sports arena or concert arena is similar to what hospitals are experiencing when they use wireless devices on a 4G network.

When everyone in the crowd uses their device, it’s nearly impossible to make a call or text pictures because the system gets overwhelmed. Li said health systems are “still stuck in that old sports stadium.”

With a faster network, emergency telesurgery could be performed in a rural area with few providers. A doctor in another part of the country could operate with robotic tools onsite and a customized Internet connection.

While the tech already exists, Li said it has to be perfect in healthcare. Currently 4G’s lag time prevents anything outside of the simplest surgery impossible.

5G in hospitals around the globe

China announced the first 5G medical private network in the world in 2019 and built 20 5G-enabled cabin hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, hospitals in South Korea, Thailand, Israel and the U.K. are now online, and a surgeon in Hangzhou performed a telesurgery on a woman in Xinjiang.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the Cleveland Clinic’s facility that was built with 5G will serve as a test bed and a place to launch new ideas and innovation in healthcare technology, Matt Kull, the clinic’s chief information officer, told Axios. The facility follows the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Palo Alto Health Care System, which was the U.S.’ first 5G-enabled hospital in February 2020.

“Imagine a doctor being able to see layers beneath the skin before the first incision is ever made,” former VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said at the time. “The FDA was never able to approve these sorts of practices in surgery because 4G technology simply could not carry that much information.”

Li said approximately 20 percent of U.S. hospitals have deployed at least some 5G connectivity, Axios reports. Only a few are using 5G to its fullest potential, however.

“My concern is that so many physicians I meet don’t understand the importance of 5G,” Li said. “Even leaders in hospitals don’t know what they can do yet. We need more knowledge about how this could help them realize the future, to deliver care in the ideal way.”

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