By Alaap Shah, JD, MPH, and Ebunola Aniyikaiye, JD, MBA, MPP, Epstein, Becker, Green.
Patient care in the U.S. continues to modernize through rapid digitization, increasing connectivity among the internet of things (“IOT”). Supporting a robust infrastructure that allows for large scale flow of information through interconnected systems requires modernization of network technologies. One such technology advance is 5G.
5G is similar to its predecessor wireless technologies, such as 3G, 4G and LTE, but promises to have the capability to transmit 10 to 100 times more data than 4G in the same amount of time. 5G will also overcome issues related to latency, capacity, and customization that currently plague predecessor technologies. As the roll out of 5G progresses, the health industry is considering its potential impact of 5G on the healthcare ecosystem. Many believe that 5G will revolutionize healthcare delivery, and ultimately contribute to improved patient care. 5G appears poised to impact healthcare by facilitating faster and more seamless transmission of patient information at much larger volume than possible today. As such, 5G can improve patient care by facilitating Artificial Intelligence (“AI”), enabling remote care paradigms, and improving access to care.
One sector that will benefit from 5G’s ability to allow for fast and voluminous data transmission is AI. AI technologies are powered by algorithms that process complex and large data sets at exceptional speeds. With the arrival of 5G, health organizations may be better positioned to implement AI solutions directly into their delivery of care models. Advances in AI coupled with the power of 5G would foster care delivery that is data-rich and data-driven to improve quality of care and outcomes.
Additionally, adoption of 5G will likely increase access to high-quality care, by supporting remote care paradigms in the health industry. For example, remote radiological imaging and remote robotic surgery will likely thrive in the 5G world. The secure transport of extremely large, high-resolution image data is required for successful use of these technologies. The capacity of 5G to transmit these types of data at scale in a real-time or near-real time fashion will likely be transformative. Patients will be able to gain access to care from specialists they otherwise could not have had access to previously. For the same reasons, 5G will further untether providers from historical brick and mortar facilities such as hospitals and clinics.
Telemedicine is another tool that can improve access to care through leveraging 5G. For example, through video consultation, patients may be able to access numerous high quality providers from remote locations. Robust and reliable internet connectivity is vital for these services to function. 5G is advertised to be able to connect one million devices per square kilometer. If this metric is accurate, 5G would allow practitioners to follow up with patients and engage them outside of clinics through wireless networks with more confidence. Use of 5G could also facilitate more positive outcomes as a result of increased active engagement between patients and providers.
Despite the promise of 5G improving patient care, there will likely be practical challenges that accompany its implementation. While 5G has the ability to increase access to care, it is important to recognize that not every patient in the U.S. will immediately have access to 5G. It remains unclear how quickly 5G technology will be available nationwide. Further, it is likely that the remote localities where patients would benefit most from the use of 5G may be the last to gain access to 5G networks, in part because of the influence of the private sector. In other words, 5G may negatively impact access and further exacerbate the technology gap.
Furthermore, 5G can expose patient data to cybersecurity and privacy risks. Although it is not entirely clear how 5G will specifically affect privacy and security, what is apparent is that more devices will be interconnected into IoT paradigms which often create security risk if not managed appropriately. Health organizations will also likely leverage the cloud and virtualization to support 5G interconnectivity. As a result, there will be new vulnerabilities and threats that health organizations will have to anticipate and manage. Highly distributed networks built on 5G may attract nefarious actors to hack these networks and gain unauthorized access. Organizations leveraging 5G as part of their IoT strategies should prepare by implementing security measures and risk management strategies to secure their infrastructure and patient data.
There is no question that 5G has tremendous power to positively impact patient care. Yet, as with all revolutionary technologies, practical considerations around privacy and cybersecurity should be priority when adopting these novel technologies.