Telehealth covers long-distance clinical care, but its processes also cover administration, clinical interaction and collaboration, and patient and professional health education. These processes rely on technologies such as store-and-forward imaging, terrestrial and wireless communications and streaming media, which are data-intensive.
Many current telehealth solutions run quite well on today's networks. But 5G's critical attributes—particularly its speed and low latency—offer promise for big-data-driven telemedicine applications, such as:
- Diagnostic image transmission, as the ability to stream large files facilitates remote patient consultation and 3D-rendered clinical team training.
- Real-time, intelligent patient monitoring, which supports patient safety programs and resource management goals through IoT-assisted asset tracking.
- Augmented-reality-assisted pre-surgical planning and remote robotic assistance, where ultra-low latency is critical for ensuring precision.
- Asynchronous video recording, which helps make remote care possible.
- Accelerated artificial intelligence, which can trawl huge data lakes for real-time insights.
5G could be more revolutionary for the future of telemedicine than the COVID-19 pandemic has been for telehealth services. Realizing that level of change, however, requires healthcare leaders to grasp what keeps telehealth services running.
Safety is the differentiator in communication technology applications in healthcare. What might be the dividing line between irritation and convenience outside of the industry could be life or death in a healthcare context. Lower latency times—below 300 milliseconds, with less than 100 milliseconds the ideal—make telesurgery safer by helping to enhance the degree of precision involved in certain surgical actions, thereby minimizing inaccuracies.
5G should someday provide latency of less than 10 ms, permitting latency-sensitive telehealth applications with basically real-time interactivity. Hospitals and health systems increasingly rely on the availability of real-time data to support the complex communications web linking providers, patients, government entities, insurers and other stakeholders.
But the rush into telemedicine has left healthcare networks vulnerable to threats. Progress in Internet of Medical Things initiatives often puts more mobile devices in play, which complicates endpoint security management. Relaxed firewall rules and eased enforcement discretion around privacy laws to support remote physicians and remote patient monitoring have left sensitive data exposed to cyber criminals. Though new threats will try to exploit 5G’s expansion of the attack surface, the distinctly new architecture and capabilities of 5G networks give operators opportunities to detect and address cyber threats faster and more efficiently than ever before. 5G encrypts signaling traffic and inherits well-proven security algorithms. With secure identity management and a new authentication framework, 5G will also allow more flexible and robust authentication.