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View from India: 5G for smart healthcare

View from India: 5G for smart healthcare

GE Healthcare was in the news recently as it launched its 5G Innovation Lab in India, the first for GE Healthcare globally.

The 5G Innovation Lab is situated in the John F Welch Technology Centre (JFWTC), Bangalore, which is GE Healthcare’s largest R&D Centre outside the USA. The lab will serve as a conduit for technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, machine learning, big data, edge computing and cyber security. Equipped with a private 5G network for testing and development, it will be a test-bed to develop future-ready products and solutions – this vision can be executed through collaborations with academia, industry and startups to co-create future-ready solutions.

As reported in the media, the 5G Innovation Lab has been initiated to transform remote healthcare. It will be a platform for the company’s lead scientists and technologists to research and develop solutions for healthcare issues for India and the world. The 5G network’s high-speed connectivity may help connect smaller clinics to larger specialty hospitals or radiology centres, for example.

As various dimensions of the lab unfold, what comes to mind is the possibility of 5G-enabled hospitals, which could be understood as smart hospitals. 5G’s network capabilities enable live streaming of patients and monitoring of their condition. A fully 5G-connected hospital ecosystem could scale-up operational efficiency.

Data is a significant aspect of hospitals. They are becoming digitised and many operations are automated; thereby, huge amounts of patient data and hospital records are generated. This data can be stored on the cloud. As data file sizes increase along with high-definition videos, 5G networks can be leveraged for ultra-low-latency data connections. But then 5G is not just about storing data on the cloud: processes can be streamlined and the 5G network, backed by big data, can help analyse the availability of patient beds and improve the overall functioning of the hospital.

Another highlight is that 5G can enable remote imaging, which can occur through robots. This seems to be timed right – for instance, those patients diagnosed with Covid-19 can be administered remote treatment. The fact that 5G ensures multi-device connectivity means that platforms and people across the board will be connected; this connectivity is particularly important when the patient’s healthcare is critical.

The hospital can also build a reputation for better time and crisis management. 5G-led connectivity is not just confined to the internal operations: ambulances, critical lifesavers, are being equipped with 5G network connectivity. Communications solutions provider Bharti Airtel has partnered with Apollo Hospitals and Cisco to create a 5G-connected ambulance. As conveyed to the media, this 5G-connected ambulance is equipped with the latest medical equipment, patient-monitoring applications and telemetry devices to facilitate the transmission of the patient’s health data to the hospital in real-time. Other highlights include onboard cameras, camera-based headgear, and body-cams for paramedic staff which are connected to the Airtel 5G network. Going forward, the intent is to support all of this with technologies such as augmented and virtual reality. This well-equipped ambulance could save lives by doubling up as an emergency room.  

5G smartphones are an obvious choice and could be sought after for their low-latency and high-speed data transfers. But it goes beyond that: smart healthcare wearables have proliferated the market as much as Internet of Things medical devices. However, for the roll-out of 5G hospitals, robust infrastructure and network coverage of a high bandwidth is required: healthcare providers and telecom operators will have to collaborate to make smart hospitals a reality, and this needs to be backed by private public partnerships and investments.

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