By 2020, around 50 billion connected devices and 212 billion connected sensors are expected to be supported by the 5G network. This is big news for IoT-connected smartphones, watches, cars, and appliances, because it means that even the smallest devices will be able to perform high-level computations.
For healthcare, this means the birth of entire digital ecosystems that can aid medical research, diagnose conditions, and provide treatment at ever-increasing rates.
Health tech, now
Already, a range of IoT-enabled tech, such as wearables, ingestibles, implantables, and stationery devices are on hand to track heart rates, issue medication reminders, send out alerts in the case of a medical emergency, and more.
Biotronik, a medical manufacturer that once focused on pacemakers and other devices now offers smart, home health-monitoring systems that include data-processing centres so physicians can remotely monitor their patients’ devices and clinical status.
Medical device company Medtronic has developed digital blood-glucose implants that use sensors to measure glucose levels in the tissue fluid just under a patient’s skin. These sensors connect wirelessly to a device that provides both patients and clinicians with early alerts if any abnormalities are detected.
In Taiwan, the Taipei government is testing a Citizen Telecare Service System (CTSS), which hopes to help elderly citizens control their personal healthcare. Using the city’s free Wifi network and employing algorithms on mobiles, computers and servers, the system aims to provide biometric monitoring, abnormal health alerts, education, and medical assistance to its ageing population.
Increased data-storage capabilities of cloud computing are also advancing medical research. Intel’s Collaborative Cancer Cloud is an analytics platform that can securely amass and analyse huge amounts of data from a variety of organisations, which have the potential to transform cancer treatments and fine-tune therapies.
A healthy future
We might be compiling vast amounts of patient-generated data from connected medical devices, apps and sensors, but to really change healthcare the data must be quickly communicated, processed and analysed.
It’s predicted that most developed countries will offer commercial 5G networks by 2020, which means IoT devices will also shift into IoT ecosystems: A world in which medical-device companies share space with players from other industries. According to analysts IDC, in 2016 American firms invested, “more than $232 billion in IoT hardware, software, services, and connectivity” and these investments will to over $357 billion by 2019.
Combined with 5G, medical technology is moving towards real-time diagnosis and treatment for patients everywhere – even in the most remote locations. AI’s ability to assist with data processing and analytics also means more accurate modelling to help doctors predict which patients are at greatest risk from various conditions.
Medicine without borders
In a few years, specialist doctors could be on hand all over the world. 5G speeds means latency (the time between a computing command and the execution of that command) will drop, which makes things like telemedical diagnosis, mobile surgery, and other real-time treatments a reality.
Even now, doctors in Portugal view video electroencephalogram (EEG) examinations remotely on a computer or smartphone, which enable them to analyse seizures and treat young people with epilepsy. This program is supported by Vodafone’s mHealth Remote Care Services and tools, which are paving the way into the future for physician and patient engagement.
Live long and prosper
Senior citizens and people with immobilising conditions also stand to benefit from on-demand video medical conferencing and telemedicine. Fast, connected devices will help physicians and nurses track vital signs, motion and even subtle slurs in speech to provide diagnosis and support without physically moving a patient.
Already playing in this space are programs such as Vodafone’s mHealth which offers at-home monitoring and management of patient conditions and, for elderly citizens, Assisted Living, which helps to alleviate loneliness and isolation make performing daily tasks in and out of home, easier.
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