Ted Curtis joined the digital transformation specialists in 2013, having previously worked with Tektronix Communications, Worldnet Data Systems and Nortel Networks. Now a senior engineer for NETSCOUT, he has a background in science technology, having earned his undergraduate degree in Theoretical Physics and his postgraduate in Infrared and Millimeter Waves from Royal Holloway, University of London.
He sat down with Healthcare Digital to share his expert insight about the possibilities of 5G technology for the healthcare industry.
How has technology progressed healthcare services in recent years?
In the past few years, we have begun to see significant technological advancements in the healthcare sector thanks to the introduction of 5G-backed medical technologies. With the challenges of the pandemic, the world was forced to turn to technological capabilities to keep things running, especially in the health sector.
Now with the global pandemic in the rear-view mirror, we continue to look to the proven potential of technology to make lengthy processes easier and provide the best possible care for patients. Medical advancements caused by 5G include the provision of telemedicine (remote video calls with practitioners), enabling remote surgery, and artificial intelligence (AI)-enhanced diagnostics aiding the early detection of diseases and providing more-accurate diagnoses.
Are there currently any material examples of this technology?
Indeed, in recent months, the NHS has been supporting trials to enable health and care organisations to harness the full potential of emerging wireless technology. An encouraging example is the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, which recently became the first 5G-connected hospital in the UK. This provided healthcare professionals with access to the eObs (eObservations) app which allows for the use of handheld devices to update patient records digitally and make live observations.
Last year, University College London Hospitals equipped its Find and Treat service mobile health clinic with 5G technology to improve the screening, testing and treatment of approximately ten thousand vulnerable, homeless and high-risk people in London.
The mobile clinic’s new equipment consists of digital portable X-ray cameras, AI software, tele-radiology networks to allow remote reading of X-rays, 4G and 5G routers, roaming SIM cards and smart antenna systems.
These tools have so far enabled real-time remote diagnosis and referrals, all from the mobile care unit. These examples signal the real prospects brought about by the introduction of 5G and 6G technologies to the healthcare sector.
How are these technologies likely to develop further?
The numerous medical advancements brought about by 5G have paved the way for those created by 6G – the sixth generation of wireless technology, which unlocks even greater transformative potential for the role played by technology in improving healthcare.
As the burden on healthcare services continues to grow, the possibility of using 6G alongside AI to digitise tasks and the prescription of medicine could provide much needed relief for healthcare workers, with the ability to free up valuable time especially during extended periods of staff shortages.
What are some of the ways 6G can enhance medical care?
6G is predicted to operate in a wider range of frequency bands than 5G, with fewer delays in network communication. Since the current capability of data sharing with 5G is best for short ranges only, the prospect of 6G could improve this range, allowing for the performance of remote procedures from a greater distance and allowing surgeons to work more efficiently. In this way, 6G could enable better patient outcomes, enhance remote healthcare capabilities, and welcome the new age of digital health technologies.
The key areas of growth that could be enabled by 6G technologies focus on improving communication and collaboration. The integration of 6G and AI could allow medical professionals, including researchers, to exchange ideas and information faster and more effectively, irrespective of location.
This would include the accessing and sharing of patient data, research findings and other important information. As mentioned, the capacity of 6G coupled with AI to analyse large amounts of data could free up precious time for healthcare professionals, allowing them to identify patterns and predict possible health issues and outcomes. Furthermore, it will permit data sharing in real-time, enabling staff to make crucial decisions quickly and safely.
What medical advancements will 6G enable that 5G could not?
Since 6G technology will allow for greater range than that provided by 5G, it holds plenty of potential to improve the way healthcare providers will be able to work.
For instance, taking telemedical appointments a step further, 6G introduces the potential for holographic communications between healthcare professionals and patients. It could also enable surgeons to perform procedures in person or remotely, guided by holographic representations of the patient’s anatomy.
Secondly, the high-speed data transfer and low-latency capabilities of 6G can facilitate the development of personalised treatment plans tailored to the patient's unique genetic makeup, via the rapid analysis of large datasets.
6G networks' advanced sensing and imaging technologies could assist with the early detection of cancerous growths with enhanced, high-resolution 3D imaging in real time. In turn, this could improve a patient's chances of successful treatment.
The technology will also allow surgeons to perform delicate procedures with extreme precision assisted by real-time, high-definition visuals, offering improved outcomes and minimising the risks associated with traditional surgery.
Are there any other potential use cases that could be supported by 6G technology?
The computational power and increased data transfer capabilities of 6G will facilitate improved medical research including drug discovery and potential treatments. 6G is expected to allow the development of energy-efficient technologies and energy harvesting, which would eliminate the need for constant dependence on power lines and the charging and replacement of device batteries.
It could also permit the real-time monitoring of physiological information, which would provide continuous data streams for monitoring and early intervention, potentially revolutionising digital health technologies.
Finally, looking to prosthetic technology, 6G could provide a more robust and reliable connection between a prosthetic device and a user’s nervous system. This would allow the user greater control and increased intuitive movement allowing them to perform daily activities more easily. The potential for comprehensive sensory feedback could help users better respond to changes in their environment, improving their overall safety and quality of life.
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