Blog 07 Jun 2024 

Big Concepts in Brief: How is 5G being used in healthcare?

Bigger, better, faster. 5G technology isn’t just for mobile phones. Steven Bagshaw tells us how it’s laying the foundation for the hospital of the future.

Steven Bagshaw

Steven Bagshaw

Grand Challenge Lead

The digital hospital is coming, and it will be powered by 5G technology. 

In a connected world, the trend towards personalised healthcare is driving both digital advances and new products. Take the growth of wellness products and the educated patient as an example; more and more people are now taking health tracking into their own hands and onto their wrists to become more knowledgeable about their physical activity and nutritional requirements – 35% of Brits own and use a smartwatch or wearable fitness band.

5G mobile networks are accelerating the digitalisation of healthcare by enabling the building blocks and foundation for an ecosystem of connected medical devices to emerge. This will provide enormous opportunities for hospitals and other healthcare providers to improve the patient experience and deliver operational efficiencies. 

What is 5G technology?

Mobile phone users will be used to seeing the symbols 3G, 4G, or 5G when they are on the move. These represent different generations of wireless mobile communication technology networks that providers use to send data via radio waves. 

The first generation, 1G, was built using analogue technology in the 1970s and 80s. Remember rotary dial phones? Digital technology brought with it 2G communication networks, then, as that technology advanced, 3G and 4G

5G became widely available in 2019. By 2022, 25% of UK mobile phone users had 5G service, and the adoption into healthcare is coming. It uses a wider range of radio wave frequencies than 4G, which gives it significant advantages, including: 

  • Faster speeds – about 10x faster than 4G, so large files can be downloaded much more quickly.
  • Lower latency – meaning less delay, so actions and applications are more responsive and run more smoothly.
  • Greater bandwidth – higher capacity allows many more devices to be connected simultaneously.

How is 5G being applied in healthcare?

The use of 5G in hospitals and healthcare is growing but is still relatively immature. Just a few hospitals in the UK are 5G-connected”.

However, with the accelerating deployment and quantity of digital devices in hospitals, they need bandwidth and capacity to run efficiently. 5G is the platform that enables it. If we look at transport as an analogy, an increase in cars means that we need wider and better-quality roads. 5G is the road, and the devices are the cars. 

Among the benefits is the ability to update patients’ records using mobile technology during consultation or sending and receiving high-resolution files, such as MRI or CT scans, in real time with limited buffering or delay. This increases patient record accuracy and saves valuable time on administrative tasks, allowing doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers to spend more empathetic time with patients when and where it truly matters.

Telemedicine, or telehealth, was already beginning to be used when the COVID-19 pandemic generated a boom in remote care. 5G was a key contributor that enabled this by providing the necessary speed and bandwidth to run the technology smoothly. 

5G is also starting to revolutionise emergency care by enabling connections between ambulance equipment and the destination hospital. Diagnosis can be done remotely on the scene, and patient information can be relayed to the hospital before the ambulance arrives. This provides enhanced care and intervention from first responders in the vital early stages of a medical event, such as a stroke. 

Improvements in connection strength, reliability, speed and latency could widen its use even further. For example, electronic tags can be used as part of an Internet of Things (IoT) network to track valuable and often misplaced hospital equipment that may be needed at a moment’s notice. In this way, vital resources and equipment, such as portable ultrasound machines, can be distributed throughout a hospital when and where they are most needed to help alleviate the pressure on hospitals that are already at capacity. 5G-enabled IoT networks coupled with Big Data analysis can also be used to support patient allocation within healthcare systems.

Thanks to the improvements in speed and latency that 5G provides, remote robotic surgery could soon become more common and routine. One or more surgeons could operate from different rooms in the same hospital or from multiple centres simultaneously. 5G also gives patients greater access to specialists without the need to travel to the specialist’s location.

What are the challenges to applying 5G in healthcare?

Patient safety always comes first. This means there are often many regulatory requirements for healthcare applications when implementing any new disruptive technology. 

Public perception can also be a barrier, and it’s important to address the public’s concerns, particularly those around data security and potential health risks. 

5G operates at frequencies from 700 megahertz (MHz) up to about 3.8 gigahertz (GHz), which is higher than a hairdryer or radio but lower than the TV remote.

Evidence shows that 4G and 5G do not cause health problems. This contrasts with the known potentially harmful radiation of X‑rays and gamma rays, which operate above 2.4 million GHz and are used as safely as possible in the diagnosis and treatment of some medical conditions, such as the identification of broken bones or the killing of cancer cells.

The future for 5G in healthcare

There’s an increasing need for innovation and development of 5G technology specific to healthcare. To ensure this is done in accordance with regulations governing healthcare, privacy, and cyber security, it’s vital to test new technologies in an appropriate setting before they’re implemented in real-world hospital settings. 

That’s where CPI’s private 5G network testbed and our expertise in product development come in. The testbed, launched in partnership with Boldyn Networks, is reducing the barriers to innovation and allowing innovators to commercialise their 5G applications within a real-world sandpit environment. 

Applications include new wearables, diagnostics, medical devices and digital health solutions. 

By providing specialist equipment and product development expertise for HealthTech innovators, we can help facilitate the next generation of digitally-enabled HealthTech products. 

Let’s innovate together

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Steven Bagshaw

Steven Bagshaw

Grand Challenge Lead


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