5G can play an important role in helping the health and social care sector run more smoothly and efficiently with less wasted time, lost assets and greater support for carers. Improved infrastructure and access to unprecedented levels of data can also facilitate more personalised care and support for individuals, and enhance interoperability between health and social care.
Most hospitals pre-date the internet and their large and complex structures make it challenging to now connect them to wired networks. Pre-pandemic, a fifth of care workers reported that their care homes had no Wi-Fi. Connecting hospitals and residential facilities to wireless networks like 5G could be transformative for the sector, increasing efficiency and overall costs. For instance, the high bandwidth of 5G networks enables the tracking of buildings, people and the assets in them, decreasing time spent looking for items and wastage (the NHS spends £14m each year, for instance, replacing unreturned or lost crutches).
Automation will play an important role in supporting carers. Remote monitoring of vital checks and the use of robots to conduct temperature checks or transport sterilised equipment can free up limited resources to focus on more patient-centred care. What’s more, as patient-centred care becomes ever more important, a hospital connected to 5G will allow individuals to digitally control their environments (from lighting levels to temperature) to improve levels of comfort.
Training across the sector can also benefit from advanced connectivity. The high-quality connectivity 5G offers can enable ultra high-definition video streaming of surgeries, allowing more students to experience surgeries first-hand, uniquely seeing things from the perspective of the lead surgeon. It will also be possible to deploy detailed Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality situation-based training, for example of disaster response scenarios, providing a richer, more realistic form of training than is currently possible. These technologies can also transform in-work support for health and social care workers by providing training, guidance in real-time, and support mechanisms for newly trained community staff to consult a mentor or colleague. Advanced connectivity solutions are a vital tool in the future of healthcare operations.
Optimised Building and Asset Management
NHS Property Services has one of the largest property portfolios in the UK, with more than 3,000 properties and 7,000 tenants across England alone. This only represents about 10 percent of the total NHS estate and includes a broad array of properties from listed buildings through to state-of-the-art integrated health campuses. Managing such a varied estate is inevitably challenging.
5G can support a far greater density of devices than other connectivity solutions, allowing for connected buildings with enhanced physical security, increased monitoring and predictive maintenance.
But it’s not just buildings that can be connected: there are a huge amount of assets, such as wheelchairs and crutches that are used across health and social care facilities. By deploying sensors on these items, it becomes far easier to track their location and reduce loss.
The NHS spends more than £14m each year on walking aids of which nearly 50 percent are lost or never returned and nurses spend around 6,000 hours a month searching for equipment. 5G networks can help to more effectively monitor this equipment, save money and improve efficiency. This is especially important as the NHS works to reduce waiting times in the context of the post-Covid backlog.
The Rush Medical Center in Chicago has embarked on a major installation of 5G across its estate, replacing all historical wired infrastructure. This new connectivity is being used to deliver a fully digital patient experience and a connected hospital. Sensors are to be deployed throughout the hospital, enabling the monitoring of patients, assets and the environment (including temperature and energy usage).
"We Strongly believe 5G is a game-changing technology that when fully implemented will help us support better hospital operations as well as provide the highest quality patient and staff experience."
said Dr. Shafiq Rab, senior vice president and chief information officer, Rush University Medical Center and the Rush System for Health.
At the Yongin Severance Hospital in South Korea, 5G is being used to power ultra high-definition video streaming for contactless security. 5G-powered facial recognition provides contactless entry for staff onto wards, helping to reduce the risk of infection which can be associated with card or fingerprint access methods, and benefiting both staff and patients. This technology provides an additional layer of security across the hospital and particularly for secure wards.
The Ankara City Hospital Campus in Turkey is a digital hospital, with over 800,000 data points across the estate, from temperature to energy consumption, that enables full building management. The hospital’s property team has full real-time visibility and control of all aspects of the estate by way of HVAC, CCTV and lighting to access control. This enables cost savings, for instance by not lighting rooms that are not in use. Connected hospitals such as the Ankara City Hospital Campus can also deliver operational efficiencies through enabling predictive maintenance, for instance identifying when heating, air conditioning or lifts are starting to deteriorate in performance. This enables maintenance to take place before things break down and only when needed, maximising operational efficiency, reducing disruption to patients or residents and supporting the smooth running of hospitals, care homes and supplementary facilities.
Deployment of sensors throughout a hospital can also enable the development of digital twins. The Shanghai East Hospital in China used 5G to create a digital twin for running predictive simulations and modelling of “what if?” scenarios. This enables its operations teams to test run changes in a low-cost, low-risk environment.
Closer to home, researchers at the Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, looked at ways in which low-cost solutions, typically used in UK manufacturing small and medium-sized enterprises, could be repurposed for non-critical support in hospital environments. The team worked alongside Addenbrooke’s Hospital (Cambridge University Hospitals) to understand process challenges and existing solutions related to equipment maintenance, logistics and facility management.
The result was the development of a low-cost prototype that monitored the monthly utilisation in hours of healthcare equipment for maintenance purposes. Using sensors to monitor how much a medical device (such as a blood pressure monitor) was being used, the prototype would enable hospital staff to identify when it might need servicing or replacing. The research demonstrated how using the Internet of Things to automatically monitor hospital equipment can increase its availability and proper management.
“This project demonstrated the ease and robustness with which IoT technologies in the manufacturing industries can be repurposed for hospital environments. We are looking forward to identifying further crossover areas between the two seemingly unrelated domains of manufacturing and healthcare,” said Anandarup Mukherjee, Research Associate, Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge.
Driving Operational Efficiencies
The Health and Social Care sector is facing unprecedented financial pressure and demands for its services. But 5G can increase the opportunities to use technology smartly, helping to reduce the pressure on stretched workers and drive operational efficiencies. Fully embedding digital practices into the sector will take time and investment, meaning operational efficiencies may be a longer-term outcome. However, with automation, telemedicine and remote monitoring, advanced connectivity solutions can unleash the potential for a new level of effectiveness.
Virgin Media O2 Business switched on the UK’s first 5G-connected hospital with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust – provider of the most extensive portfolio of mental health services in the United Kingdom.
The switch-on was part of Maudsley Digital Lab's series of digital health and innovation trials funded by NHS Digital, with the private 5G network providing dedicated connectivity for mission-critical digital health use cases for both clinicians and patients. The trials are investigating the efficiency, safety and security benefits of using smart, 5G-connected technologies in NHS hospitals – including IoT (Internet of Things), AR (Augmented Reality) and AI (Artificial Intelligence).
The Maudsley Smart Hospital and Maudsley Smart Pharmacy trials are now live across two wards at Bethlem Royal Hospital in South London. These include dedicated, near-real-time connectivity to power e-Observations, where clinicians use handheld devices to update patient records, saving valuable time and improving accuracy. It will also link up smart devices and monitoring to reduce expensive medicine waste and track the air quality in wards. In addition, hospital IT teams will have access to expert maintenance support in other hospitals thanks to Remote Expert (an AR tool), while the Trust will be able to better plan space in public areas using Spatial Insights, which uses AI to provide anonymised heat maps of crowd movement analysis using CCTV footage.
Medication wastage costs the NHS £500 million each year, and £500m is the estimated cost of people not taking medicines properly: Liverpool CCG estimates that over-ordering, stockpiling and unused medicines at an individual level costs the NHS around £2.5 million per year. The Liverpool 5G Health & Social Care project addressed this issue with the deployment of PAMAN, a remote monitoring system with a simple video audio device. After a medication review with a clinical pharmacist, over 30 trialists were provided with a device in their home that connected to the PAMAN monitoring centre with a simple button. This enabled pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to observe patients in their homes during a video call; the team can also answer any questions the user has, liaise with pharmacies and GPs on their behalf and facilitate repeat prescriptions. 5G provides a reliable, consistent connection and enables ultra-high-definition video to facilitate this service.
The results of the trial were striking: medication adherence levels rose to 95 per cent (compared to the 55 per cent national average). What’s more, there was an additional 51 percent drop in the number of service users who had a medication error, a 50 percent reduction in medication costs through reduced wastage, and a significant reduction in carer hours needed to provide medication administration support. Amongst the service users, 73 percent reported feeling happier and more confident in taking their medication than they had before the trial. These considerable benefits combine to deliver a potential cost saving to health and social care services of £208,800 per 100 users per year.
Telemonitoring can also reduce the number of required district nurse visits. Liverpool City Council deployed Care Portal devices for patients to use in their homes. With a built-in ECG monitor, the device connects to a Telehealth Hub that is staffed by nurses and healthcare assistants. The continuous monitoring the hub allows can deliver significant operational efficiencies, for example, problems identified before they become emergencies, reduced unnecessary district nurse visits, and increased independence.
WM5G and the West Mercia Rural 5G project both deployed 5G solutions to enable GPs and District Nurse Practitioners to conduct full patient check-ups and virtual ward rounds at care homes, helping reduce time in travelling between surgeries and facilities, supporting the sector to achieve its Net Zero ambitions, and allowing more individuals to be seen in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable. The Vodafone Telemedicine Programme in Greece has focused on providing remote telemedicine to rural areas and similarly allows specialists to review and consult patients over high-definition video. Such solutions are particularly pertinent in rural settings, where travel distances can be considerably longer, adding extra pressure on GPs and District Nurse Practitioners. This can mean fewer individuals can be seen in a day, potentially leading to longer appointment wait times for individuals. West Mercia Rural 5G also reviewed a number of additional benefits associated with a “Connected Worker” solution. For instance, early patient observation can provide valuable ‘heads-up’ information to GPs and District Nurse Practitioners, ensuring they bring everything they need for at-home visits, maximising the impact of the visit for the individual and reducing the number of repeat visits required. In addition to less travel time, the project is additionally assessing how virtual GP rounds in care homes could reduce the stress and anxiety for residents too, especially those with dementia.
West Mercia Rural 5G also explored the ability to deliver remote musculoskeletal (MSK) clinics and physio sessions, delivered by community physiotherapists. A '5G kinesio-visualisation' used technology within modern mobile phones to scan the movements of the patient, and through real-time (or recorded and uploaded) video presents the data as an avatar to the reviewing physio. Similarly, the Hospital de la Princesa in Madrid is delivering rehabilitation to multiple sclerosis (MS) patients in their own homes over 5G virtual reality. VR glasses enable patients to work in groups in virtual rooms that emulate video games. It is anticipated that the delivery of remote secondary care will help the healthcare trust save costs and reduce waiting times, ensuring patients can access care sooner.
5G-powered technologies can also help to save time and cost in hospital settings, too. At the Samsung Medical Center in South Korea, tissue samples taken from patients during surgery were historically treated for analysis and sent back to pathologists in an adjacent room. This required up to 20 minutes of walking back and forth, making it difficult for pathologists to conduct on-site group analyses. The deployment of a 5G network, however, has enabled digital diagnostic pathology; doctors can now send 4 gigabyte frozen section biopsy images at an average speed of 1 gigabyte per second. Data can be easily and readily shared with colleagues in different departments and buildings, facilitating real-time feedback and more efficient working.
As much as 30% of the world’s stored data is generated in the healthcare industry, with a single patient typically generating about 80MB each year in electronic medical record data. Reviewing and analysing this data is time-consuming and puts a considerable eye strain on doctors. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning can automatically analyse data, allowing for faster accurate diagnosis. With greater efficiency, doctors can see more patients, reduce waiting times and deliver better health outcomes. The XiangNan University Hospital in Hunan Province, China is using an AI model to quickly detect and identify pneumonic lesions while providing quantitative assessment for diagnosis information, including the number, volume, and proportion of pneumonic lesions. The system can pinpoint the disease in less than one minute, with a detection accuracy of 92% and a recall rate of 97% on test data sets, offering faster, more accurate diagnoses to patients and reducing pressure on strained workers.
In South Korea, mobile network operator SKT is working in partnership with a precision medical biotechnology company, Macrogen, to build a system that can process, manage and analyse vast amounts of data securely. SKT will provide 5G connectivity, as well as compression storage technology — allowing hospitals and research institutions to store data efficiently and cost-effectively. It is anticipated that the technology could help save operations costs by up to 90% and shorten data analysis time to a tenth.
The Rush Medical Center in Chicago is using 5G to deliver a fully connected hospital, including connected blood pressure cuffs and digital patient ID tags capable of monitoring vital signs. Automating such tasks can free up nurses and auxiliary staff to be able to focus on the delivery of more patient-centred care.
In Wuhan, China, robots were used in Covid wards to administer basic care such as delivering meals, taking patients’ temperatures and disinfecting spaces. What’s more, the Samsung Medical Center in South Korea has deployed autonomous robots in operating theatres. The robots provide assistance by delivering blood and disposing of medical waste, with 5G connectivity minimising disruption and latency between the robots and terminals. The hospital expects the use of the robots will reduce secondary and tertiary infection that occurs through contact with medical waste, in addition to saving human resource costs.
Clinical trials greatly depend on a constant flow of data detailing patients’ responses to the therapies under investigation. 5G infrastructure and connectivity may now provide drug manufacturers with the incentive and opportunity to place IoT-connected monitoring devices in the participants’ homes during clinical trials.
"This would reduce administrative overhead and processing costs, in turn bringing down the price of each trial and enabling pharma companies to trial more drugs each year. And the availability of the data in real-time might shorten the cycle time of a trial from, say, eight months to six, meaning the company can get the drugs to market faster or more quickly halt trials that aren’t working," as per a PwC report.
In 2015, 54% of people aged over 65 had two or more chronic conditions but by 2035, this is predicted to rise to 67.8% with 17% of over 65s living with four or more conditions. Management often spans across multiple departments in both health and social care, which means coordination of treatment plans and collaborative working is more important than ever. The high-bandwidth of 5G means that large data files can be transferred easily and securely between departments. Ultra high-definition video conferencing is also possible and datasets from remote monitoring can be accessed by multiple parties. This will result in improved efficiency, greater capacity to bring in remote specialists and more cohesive, effective care plans.
The Austin Cancer Center in the US has deployed a high-speed 5G network to quickly and reliably transport huge data files from PET scans, typically up to 1 gigabyte of information per patient per study.
Jason Lindgren, CIO of the centre, said:
"To get that much data from one side of the town to another, you've got to have the network performance to handle it. We used to have to send the files after hours. Now as soon as the patient leaves the scanner, the study is already on its way".
At the Samsung Medical Center in South Korea, tissue samples taken from patients during surgery were historically treated for analysis and sent back to pathologists in an adjacent room. This required up to 20 minutes of walking back and forth, making it difficult for pathologists to conduct on-site group analyses. The deployment of a 5G network however has enabled digital diagnostic pathology; doctors can now send 4 gigabyte frozen section biopsy images at an average speed of 1 gigabyte per second. Data can be easily and readily shared with colleagues in different departments and buildings, facilitating real-time feedback, less wasted time and significantly more efficient working.
Visionable is the first video collaboration platform designed specifically to help medical teams with their advanced clinical needs and has been approved by the NHS. It enables an unlimited number of medical experts to meet securely online, from any location and through any device. In these virtual meetings, high definition clinical-grade images can be exchanged in real time, enabling insight, faster accurate diagnosis and collaborative decision making. Additionally, clinicians can hold virtual consultations with their patients, with immediate access to their medical records and high quality imaging tests.
5G facilitates more fluid working and the creation of virtual teams in real-time to deliver remote support and assistance across teams. Working with the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, WM5G conducted the UK’s first demonstration of a remote-controlled ultrasound scan over a public 5G network. The demonstration simulated a paramedic performing an ultrasound scan on a patient, under the remote guidance of a clinician who was able to interpret the ultrasound image in real-time. The ultrasound sensor was manipulated locally by the paramedic under the remote direction of the clinician, who used a joystick to send control signals over the live 5G network to a robotic or ‘haptic’ glove. This created small vibrations to direct the paramedic’s hand, allowing the clinician to remotely control the sensor position and see the ultrasound images in real time.
Enabling ultrasound scans to be performed by paramedics with remote live diagnosis can bring a number of advantages to both patients and the NHS. In addition to providing an accurate diagnosis more quickly, the technology could reduce the number of unnecessary ambulance journeys and hospital visits if the diagnosed injury or illness can be managed in the community. This frees up resources as well as providing faster, more accurate diagnoses and better health outcomes for the patient.
Time Jones, Chief Innovation Offiver at UHB, said:
"We are immensely excited about the potential of 5G to support transformation in healthcare. Our clinicians will in the furture be able to deliver holistic specialist advice in real time, potentially forming virtual multi-disciplinary teams to provide the best patient care using intelligent IT links. Information would be accessible at the point of need, ensuring informed decision making leading to improved patient safety, quality of care and patient/clinician experience."
Training Staff and Students
5G’s high-bandwidth and low-latency is set to revolutionise the training of health and social care workers. 5G networks will introduce real-time ultra high-definition video streams of live surgeries and procedures, in addition to immersive mixed reality experiences with VR headsets: staff and students will benefit from unparalleled opportunities to observe, explore and develop.
The West Merica Rural 5G project deployed 5G-connected video wearables (head mounted tablets) to domiciliary care providers within care homes. By linking these workers to a range of remote practitioners and specialists, professionals were able to receive guidance, support and field-based training.
In Spain, the Castilla-la Mancha project has explored applications of 5G-powered augmented reality. In addition to providing remote specialist assistance, the new capability is being used to develop a comprehensive training platform in minimally invasive surgery. This allows medical students and residents to access high-volume pedagogical material. A similar approach is being deployed in the Caceres 5G project in Spain, which is developing a mixed reality training platform. Residents will be able to access educational materials (including real-time access to live surgeries) via high-quality video and interactive 3D holograms.
University Hospital of Wales, University Hospital Llandough and the Cardiff Vale University Health Board are partnering with Vodafone to trial a number of 5G use cases including the delivery of training in cancer care. 5G-powered technologies are being used to provide nurses with colonoscopy training and can connect nurses in Cardiff with remotely located expert consultants who can oversee and guide procedures as required. This training is expected to allow more patients to be seen in a shorter time, while the ability to tap into remote guidance as required helps to ensure a high quality service every time.
Len Richards, CEO, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, said:
"The importance of connectivity can't be understated as we enter this new age of healthcare, providing an important platform from which we can explore exciting clinical innovations such as this to improve outcomes for our patients."
Observing surgeries can provide a key learning opportunity — but operating theatres are often unsuitable for close in-person observation. 5G, however, enables real-time ultra high-definition voice and video streaming for remote observation of surgeries. The Samsung Medical Center in South Korea is taking full advantage of this functionality, providing better training opportunities for students without compromising the surgical space, and giving students the unique perspective from the lead surgeon.
Coventry University healthcare students are likewise benefiting from immersive and interactive remote learning, though 5G. Virtual reality and augmented reality is enabling a new approach to teaching, allowing medics to explore the human body like never before. Professors are able to access any part of the body and as a result, lectures become more flexible and interactive.
"I can put the headset on and 5G allows the learner to access high-resolution images and videos remotely, anywhere in the world, and (they) are able to ask questions in real time."
says Dr Natasha Taylor, an associate professor at Coventry University's Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.
The ASSERT Centre at University College Cork has built a 5G-connected medical robotics training centre, creating a high-tech training ground for medical students. It features a series of immersive suits that can simulate real world situations, from roadside traffic accidents, to emergency rooms and operating theatres. This exposes students to realistic simulations, granting them first-hand access to scenarios that it would not be possible - for safety and ethical reasons - for them to experience otherwise.
In the US, Case Western Reserve and Cleveland Clinic are embracing technology-based training. Cadavers are no longer used in anatomy classes but instead, medical students use AR headsets to see a body’s organs and systems in labelled holograms. This enables students to more closely view organs (such as the pancreas which cannot be seen from the front of the body). The holographic body can be rotated to reveal organs, and professors can direct student attention to features with a virtual “finger”.
Professor Mark Griswold, a world-renowned radiology researcher, explained that he had worked with datasets of brain MRIs for more than a decade, “and I never fully understood their 3D structure until I saw them in HoloLens.”
Protecting Health and Social Care Workers
Caregivers face many hazards in their daily working lives. Yet 5G is here to help: its ability to power automation, contactless security measures and remote testing capabilities will help minimise the risk to health and social care workers, and those they care for, of hazardous scenarios or environments.
TDuring the pandemic, Scotland’s O2 and the University of Glasgow conducted a fully connected Covid-19 testing clinic-on-wheels, supported by their 5G mobile network. The three-month trial was designed to provide remote testing and tracking of 550 care home residents and workers over six care homes in Glasgow, as well as deliver essential medical supplies.
Data on the number of tests performed and the test results were shared to a secure cloud server, with the testing unit providing a dashboard of real-time epidemiological analysis to the NHS, Scottish Government and public health organisations. Using the pinpoint accuracy location tracking — made possible by 5G — the project management team was also able to monitor the vehicle’s position and behaviour in real-time, ensuring supplies were delivered on time.
This mobile testing was crucial in the efforts to minimise exposure of care home residents and staff to Covid-19, reducing sickness levels and potentially saving lives as a result.
Professor Muhammad Imran, University of Glasgow James Watt School of Engineering said:
"The utility and scope of a mobile health clinic goes beyond this current pandemic. Engineering a fleet of connected healthcare response mobile units can provide services at the doorsteps of fragile and constrained patients all over the country even after the pandemic is over."
In Wuhan, during the height of the covid pandemic, autonomous robots were deployed on coronavirus wards to take temperatures, deliver meals and disinfect spaces. These robots helped to take the strain off stretched healthcare workers by performing basic tasks, as well as protecting healthcare workers by reducing their exposure to infected patients. Meanwhile, the Siriraj Piyamaharajkarun Hospital in Thailand used 5G powered autonomous vehicles to deliver medical supplies around the site to reduce risks for hospital porters.
5G can also play a role in enhancing physical security at facilities. At the Yongin Severance Hospital in South Korea, a 5G-powered facial recognition system has been installed to control security access onto wards. The high bandwidth and low latency of 5G enables ultra high-definition video streams and the ability to more rapidly process data and grant entry to authorised individuals. This protects patients and staff, and significantly reduces the risk of infection compared to a fingerprint or badge system.
Disaster Scenario Response
In the event of a disaster, information is critical to enable an appropriate resource and hospital preparation. With high bandwidth and low latency, 5G makes ultra high-definition video streaming and calling a reality, while private networks and the capability to create network slices guarantee reliable coverage, even when public networks are at capacity.
When will this be available? View our predicted timeline here.
The 5G Barcelona project has tested connected ambulances, placing cameras inside and outside of the ambulance. It is anticipated that the video stream from these cameras will be able to provide real-time feeds of complex situations such as terrorist attacks or natural emergencies. These insights can help hospitals prepare more effectively for mass casualty incidents. Drones could also be deployed because with 5G, they can be operated beyond the line of visual sight. This opens up possibilities to achieve a more complete view of a scenario, especially when it may be hazardous for first responders to enter a scene. 5G Barcelona has specifically explored this in firefighting scenarios, but the premise could easily be applied to other disaster situations.
Optimised Patient Experience
Patient-centred care is a key priority for the sector, ensuring people receive care and support with dignity and respect, while involving them in all decisions about their health and care. Greater collaboration and ease of sharing between teams and departments can contribute to this and improves the service user's experience, removing the need for people to outline their needs multiple times. Particularly in the private healthcare sector, the hospital experience is of increasing importance. With 5G, patients can digitally control and tailor their environments, for instance lighting or temperature, to improve levels of comfort.
At the Samsung Medical Center and Yonsei University Hospital in South Korea, 5G is being used to deliver AI-powered care platforms. Patients will, for example, be able to control their bed position with a simple voice command. The air quality of the room, the person’s condition, and sleep quality will likewise be continuously monitored and updated. Yonsei has even deployed facial recognition to detect signs of discomfort.
At the IRCCS San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, an assistive robot has been implemented. R1 provides useful information on the hospital and its facilities, including directions. The robot is also able to read books, take food orders and provide companionship: 5G connectivity promises minimal delay.