The doctor will see you now

With 5G, telemedicine should get the boost it needs—plus a little something extra—to make better healthcare more accessible.

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Almost every adult has gone through the inconvenient and time-consuming process of visiting a healthcare provider, which often requires taking time off from work or pulling the kids out of schools, then driving to the appointment, sitting in the waiting room—and the examination room—before finally seeing the doctor.

That could soon change dramatically with telemedicine.

This remote care model isn’t necessarily new, but Americans have been hesitant to embrace it. And it’s understandable; change doesn’t happen in an instant, especially when it comes to decades-old routines to which we’ve grown accustomed—even those we may not particularly enjoy.

Viewing healthcare from a COVID perspective

Nearly all of our activities and schedules have been altered in some way by COVID-19, and healthcare is no exception. Consider the fact that before 2020 only 10% of consumers used telehealth services. That’s according to research from JD Power, who likened telemedicine’s early adoption to mobile banking, which also started at a slow pace. With the onset of the pandemic, however, telehealth seemed to explode almost overnight, thanks in large part to temporary changes in U.S. government regulations such as provider licensure requirements, HIPAA regulations and Medicare payments that pre-COVID-19 presented barriers for many.

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Telemedicine goes viral, and could get a boost from 5G

Improved generations of connectivity have been remarkable facilitators of telemedicine, but 5G may give it the biggest boost yet. In May, the City of San Diego's Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer was joined by Rady Children’s Hospital to announce the expansion of its 5G wireless network. The hospital has seen a marked increase in remote visits since the pandemic began, increasing from 20 to 4,000 per week, making the 5G deployment timely. San Diego is one of many cities that have been working with Verizon to deploy 5G capabilities.

At the same time, a wide range of organizations—from hospitals to universities—are utilizing Verizon’s BlueJeans platform over existing 4G networks. A high-quality video conferencing tool, it is HIPAA compliant, enabling researchers, clinicians and hospital staff to remotely provide medical advice and treatment to patients, and so much more.

The University of Louisville School of Medicine, one of the oldest medical schools in North America, is using the platform to not only increase the reach of remote consultations but also live-stream surgical procedures directly from the operating room to its medical students, who are learning virtually at home during this time.

The future of healthcare may be closer than we think

It may not be long before an entirely new healthcare model takes root, one that is highly flexible, accessible, personalized and patient centered, with doctors not only making virtual house calls but also performing life-saving surgeries—remotely.

In order for such complex procedures to truly take hold, however, networks must improve to provide secure connections while reducing latency, or lag time. With billions of wireless devices, streaming media and apps now competing for bandwidth and speed, it’s no easy task. That’s why innovative enterprises have been working with network operators on potentially game-changing technologies using 5G.

Strong connections build more resilient communities

Health and the economy are inseparable. When one thrives, so does the other. Countries with poor healthcare face more challenges in economic growth and stability, but all it takes is a 10% improvement in life expectancy at birth to increase economic growth by 0.3-0.4 percentage points a year, according to the World Health Organization.

Think on this: Many of us enjoy ready access to internet connectivity. It’s likely that few of us, however, have used it for monitoring our health or for connecting to our care providers. If and when we do, however, our lives could change in ways we have not yet imagined. Someday, the clothes and accessories we wear may be able to monitor every critical function of our bodies and send real-time alerts to healthcare providers before we know there may be something wrong. Those kinds of intuitive capabilities are being researched and developed right now at world-class institutions such as Mayo Clinic. With the bandwidth of a high-speed, low-latency 5G network, telemedicine may not only get the boost it needs to bring better care to people everywhere, but also serve as a foundation for giving patients more peace of mind and health systems the flexibility they need to take care of them round the clock. 

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