Posted: 23 May 2023 5 min. read

5G could revolutionize care delivery and outcomes

By Jack Fritz, principal, and Randy Bush, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP

People generally talk about 5G in terms of speed…and it is fast. But the implications for health care could be a game changer. When combined with other emerging technologies (e.g., big data, edge computing, artificial intelligence(AI), machine learning, the cloud, and radical interoperability) 5G acts as a significant force multiplier (See our new white paper, 5G edge as an operations transformation platform for health care providers).

At this year’s annual HIMSS meeting in Chicago, we led a session that explored the impact 5G could have on health care and life sciences organizations. We invited Joe Drygas, AT&T’s vice president of health care, government, and education to offer some insight into this next generation of wireless connectivity. While Joe works in telecommunications, he noted that this was his 20th HIMSS conference.

Based on our conversations, it seems that health system leaders are generally aware of 5G, and they tend to understand it has the potential to improve connectivity and reduce latency in connected devices. However, it is not yet a priority for most health care organizations (see What’s the big deal with 5G anyway?). Some health care organizations have made minimal investments to experiment with the advanced connectivity 5G offers.

5 ways 5G could help revolutionize health care 

Joe noted that there has been an explosion of data across the health care and life sciences sectors. An estimated 30% of all data being generated around the world is health care data, he said.1 The ability to transfer data at unprecedented speeds could move health care out of traditional facility-based settings toward remote diagnosis and care.

Here are 5 ways the introduction of 5G could affect health care organizations:

  • More bandwidth: 5G can make it possible to exchange large files. This could include high-definition medical images or sizable data sets used by researchers and other applications that require high bandwidth. Moreover, technologies such as virtual reality (V/R), augmented reality (A/R), and the metaverse rely on a high bandwidth, low-latency connectivity, and fast processing speed. A/R and V/R, for example, can be used to simulate surgical procedures, allowing surgeons to practice on virtual patients. This could help to improve outcomes during actual surgeries. A medical student might be able to tap into the expertise of an experienced physician by putting on a headset. Joe said that such virtual training can be easier, and appears to be more effective, than traditional classroom-based learning. There is also a growing interest in using AI. Smart cameras combined with AI could replace some of the processes that humans have traditionally done, such as checking in on patients. Technologies such as smart telemonitoring could help take some pressure off clinicians and could help reduce burnout.
  • New care models and payment models: The importance of connectivity was highlighted during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual health, hospital at home and remote patient monitoring all require reliable connectivity. Even when a patient is not in a hospital, connected devices such as wearable sensors and mobile apps can make it possible for care to be delivered outside of a clinical setting. In addition, 5G could help pave the way for value-based care models. The ability to evaluate risk quickly could make it easier to transition from a fee-for-service model to a value-based model if payers can receive real-time feedback that demonstrates how effectively a patient’s care is being managed.
  • Realtime data from wearables and sensors: Nearly half of the 4,545 health care consumers surveyed by Deloitte has some type of a wearable or smart device to measure fitness, and 80% of those respondents said prompts or nudges help remind them to focus on their health (see Left to our own devices). 5G-enabled sensors embedded into implantable medical devices could be used to monitor patient conditions and enable self-diagnostics. A health plan might use information from a member’s connected device to reduce hospital readmissions. Wearable devices can also be useful for virtual clinical trials. A drug manufacturer or trial sponsor could provide participants with a wearable device to monitor the effectiveness of a new therapy and provide real-time feedback back to the pharmaceutical companies. 
  • Better security: Health care data can be a target for data breaches. Joe noted that 5G is more secure than previous cellular connections or traditional WiFi. 5G offers a more advanced two-way authentication (e.g., extensible authentication protocol (EAP)) and a stronger end-to-end 256-bit encryption for devices, (compared with 128-bit encryption for 3G and 4G). This can enable a higher level of protection for end users and can make it difficult for bad actors to decrypt data. The network is also built for efficient slicing, which can allow customers to segregate sensitive and more generic data. It also can provide more precise security and privacy controls in the different slices. Finally, 5G includes an edge protection proxy that securely interconnects different networks to help maintain data consistency, accuracy, and integrity.2
  • Health equity: Access to reliable internet could help improve health equity. Joe said AT&T is expanding 5G capabilities into more cities and laying miles of fiber-optic cable.3 He noted that the federal government created the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides a benefit of up to $30 per month (up to $75 a month for those on qualified Tribal lands) to low-income households to improve access to broadband internet. AT&T has launched a matching plan, which makes access free when combined with the federal benefit.4

In this modern age of health care consumerism, 5G advanced connectivity could empower patients to take charge of their own health and enable new models of managing care. Health care leaders will likely benefit from incorporating connectivity into the strategic planning and future vision for their organizations.

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1The healthcare data explosion, Capital Markets

2Fight back against cyberattacks, Forbes, March 21, 2023

3AT&T plans to deliver fiber internet to Charleston and Greenville, AT&T press release, February 2, 2023

4The Affordable Connectivity Program benefit can help pay for AT&T Internet plans, AT&T 

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