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Healthcare and the 5G Revolution


The promise of 5G lies in its ability to connect patients, but negatives abound.


As 5G starts to rollout around the world, the belief is that it will connect everything through a seamless connection to the cloud. Connectivity problems as we know it are solved. In fact, as connectivity becomes more ubiquitous, devices will start connecting directly to the cloud instead of having to go through an intermediary such as a smartphone, tablet or IoT hub.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

The predominant use of 5G is to transmit large amounts of data at a much faster speed than 4G. This large pipe comes with a downside. Because 5G has a short wavelength, it will require more towers and use much more power to transmit and receive. So, 5G could become more of a power drain on battery-powered, connected devices.

However, 5G provides an environment for connected solutions that need more bandwidth in order to burst large media content and applications. Solutions that are plugged in and powered directly from wall power or large batteries are well-suited for 5G and to transmit large amounts of information to and from the cloud.

That said, not all connected solutions are made alike. Many have different requirements for large amounts of voice and data to be transmitted, needing the overhead of 5G. These solutions include battery-powered wearables and sensors. We are quickly approaching the point in connected devices where size, power and cost required to connect to 5G prohibits such devices to become connected, disposable and cost-effective.

With all the “-ables” (wearables, hearables, seeables, implantables, personables, etc.), we are quickly transitioning to miniaturization where wearables and sensors become “disappearables” and “disposables” around the body area network to drive better economics and adherence.

Light, Meaningful Data

As part of the effort to collect these “light, meaningful data,” there is a need to reduce the size of wearable and sensor power consumption and cost. Wearables and sensors used in healthcare for the future should be designed to be light, cost-effective and disposable in order to connect to a larger population of patients in a cost-effective manner that requires less healthcare spend in a more proactive manner.

Wearables and sensors that are connecting “light” data from a patient could measure medication adherence and collect relevant sensor data like temperature, movement, hydration, fall detection, heart rate and stress to give more context to a patient’s medication routine. Wearables and sensors are also being used to help facilitate the collection of light data from rapid diagnostic solutions outside the point-of-care—typically at home. Rapid diagnostics, such as brain natriuretic peptide (BNP), creatinine, glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and many others will most likely start transitioning to home on multi-test arrays and need connectivity such as near-field communication, to simply touch the diagnostic to the wearable or sensor and transmit the data to the cloud for storage and analysis.

Deploying Connected Care Technology

This type of light and disposable thinking allows connected care technology to be deployed to a variety of patients with varying disease states (newly chronic to high risk).

In the near future, wearables and sensors will be bundled together in a variety of solutions and be highly personalized for an individual patient. These devices will need to use long pulse wave frequencies, such as Lora, Sigfox or LTE-M to send small packets of data a long distance in a cost-effective manner.

In addition, the wearable/sensor operating system (OS) needs to be “lean” in order to take advantage of lean data requirements, but highly optimize the functionality. (See recent article by John Naughton).These solutions will need to be cost-effective, simple and receive their instructions and brains from the cloud. The goal will be to process on the edge nearest the patient and aggregate and store in the cloud.

The Bottom Line

Healthcare costs in the U.S. will be more than $6 trillion by 2026. The number of doctors is reducing, especially in rural locations, and consumers are demanding that they embrace healthcare on their own terms—at home behind their computers, TV or smartphone, with deliveries to their front door. We need to reach consumers much earlier in a preventive and proactive manner, especially when they start to incur one or more chronic diseases.

The 5G revolution is going to affect healthcare in fundamental ways, but 5G is not a silver bullet on its own. Wearables and sensors, AI in the cloud and the rest of 5G promise will make healthcare more convenient.

About the Author: Kent Dicks is CEO of Life365 Inc. Life365 is a fully interoperable, scalable, multi-channel Integrated Health Platform that facilitates solution and service deployment for healthcare systems addressing self-managed patient care at home.

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