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The city of San Diego announced it will be expanding Verizon’s 5G network in certain areas to help healthcare providers increase the speed and efficiency of telehealth visits. This expansion will help hospitals improve network capacities and streamline virtual care, as 5G enables download speeds that are 10 times quicker than standard 4G network, per Becker’s Hospital Review.
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This is the latest development among a flurry of US hospitals that are tapping into 5G’s power: A VA-affiliated health system in Palo Alto, California set out to become the first 5G-enabled hospital earlier this year — and Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center previously scored a tie-up with AT&T to implement a standards-based 5G network.
A surge in patient volume amid the pandemic has amplified some telehealth platforms’ technical issues — and 5G network implementation should help address some of their challenges. Telehealth providers have witnessed an unprecedented surge in demand due to the pandemic in recent months: NYU Langone reported that its virtual care visits skyrocketed 683% between March 2 and April 14 — and Sharp Healthcare in San Diego saw a 4,000% uptick in telehealth visits since US outbreaks began, for instance.
However, this boom in traffic to virtual care platforms came with its own set of unforeseen technical challenges: For example, the VA noted that the sudden rise in daily telehealth visits fielded via its virtual care app contributed to a multitude of internet connection troubles — most of which were associated with bandwidth issues — which could subsequently leave many patients with incomplete visits and a lower-quality care. However, 5G networks offer massive amounts of bandwidth and faster connections, which can enable telehealth providers to handle greater volumes of calls with lower latency and makes the tech well-suited to handle some of telehealth’s connectivity problems surfacing amid the pandemic. The transition to 5G should also bode well for hospitals in terms of patient satisfaction, as their platforms will likely see reduced interruptions.
While the use of 5G networks in healthcare is promising, we think widespread implementation among hospitals will take some time. Proponents of 5G adoption in healthcare assert that it will extend multiple benefits to providers, including enabling faster data transmission between remote monitoring devices: A provider will be able to download large files such as MRIs while also performing a telehealth visit, for instance.
Further, robot-assisted telesurgery requires minimal lag time between a surgeon’s motion and a network’s reaction time, and a 5G network would ensure that minimal interruptions occur. However, 5G is relatively new terrain within the healthcare space, and we’ve only seen a small flurry of activity happening — so the ROI of 5G implementation isn’t quite clear yet. As such, we think adoption will be slow to take off in healthcare as execs use early moving health systems like those in California and Illinois as examples to assess the ROI potential.
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