As the country races to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, the healthcare industry’s once-gradual adoption of remote patient monitoring and other connected technology solutions is now an urgent requirement. And with the promise of the 5G era’s enhanced data speed and low-latency connections, the prospect of improved telehealth services in the future offers the potential for providers to respond faster and more effectively while minimizing the need for face-to-face services. This could ultimately speed up industry transformation, improving patient care and outcomes today and in the long run.
Connected Technology Takes Center Stage
According to the World Health Organization, using connected technology to improve healthcare (or “eHealth”) includes delivering health information using the internet and telecommunications, leveraging digital innovations to improve health systems management processes, public health services, the training of healthcare professionals and more. An underlying idea is that the focal point of healthcare can then shift from the hospital to more distributed service, centered primarily on patients and their needs.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re observing how this digitalization and virtualization of care is an essential tool for so many reasons: responding to emergencies faster, freeing up time for professionals, minimizing infection risks and maintaining safety for practitioners and first responders, patients and their families and entire communities.
The accelerated solutions unfolding now may also point to more permanent progress in healthcare. With the power of emerging 5G networks, connected devices and artificial intelligence (AI), we’re also looking at cutting-edge opportunities to use mobile apps and telehealth, remote monitoring programs, advanced data analytics and more to save lives, improve care and reach groundbreaking medical discoveries.
Apps To Boost Health And Knowledge At Home
Mobile apps on smartphones, used in conjunction with fitness wearables and other connected devices, track health metrics on everything from sleep and nutrition to exercise and vital signs. These can help both healthy people and those with conditions stay informed on their own. Transmitting this information to health professionals can reduce in-person assessments and encourages patients to take an active role in their own care. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) already offers a variety of mobile apps to assist people with everyday health situations—from navigating childhood development milestones to managing nutrition for weight loss. The CDC also offers tools that aim to build awareness about disease outbreaks and others that support first responders.
Remote Patient Monitoring To Improve Care
Monitoring patients doesn’t always require a medical setting, and 5G could fuel faster and more precise tracking of data used to harvest vital insights. A recent report by McKinsey shares how low-latency connectivity in the 5G era could make it possible to effectively monitor patients in real-time and use AI-powered tools for more rapid and accurate diagnoses. AI can also help automate more tasks and services remotely, allowing healthcare professionals to triage their efforts and spend more time with seriously ill patients, for example. With faster data speeds, large volumes of medical data can be transmitted and analyzed in real time from remote sensors, allowing practitioners and caregivers to monitor health status and manage medication and treatment plans virtually.
This remote monitoring of patients with chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma can also remove the need for repeated visits to a medical center. AI-fueled insights gleaned from continuous monitoring could also help predict when hospital admission becomes necessary and even trigger the appropriate emergency response, ultimately improving both care quality and future health outcomes while ensuring that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed.
For those in rural areas lacking nearby healthcare facilities, 5G could step in to help eliminate barriers to healthcare. Consider remote health tracking: It could improve the patient experience and quality of life by enabling people to stay informed and connected to doctors from their own homes. This is especially relevant to veterans, as many live in rural communities yet could have serious medical needs.
Ultimately, both the industry and the patient can benefit when remote monitoring steps in to alleviate the burden of seeking or providing certain services. The Center for Connected Health Policy reports that remote patient monitoring programs can actually help keep people healthy, control healthcare costs by preventing long hospitalizations and admissions, and enable seniors and people with disabilities to retain their independence.
Harnessing Data For Discoveries
Over time, increasing the density of connected devices and sensors, combined with AI-powered decision support tools, could offer invaluable insights into population health trends, better treatments and more. It also helps coordinate care and makes specialist consultations more accessible, often remotely without the need for a face-to-face appointment. This saves time for doctors and patients alike, potentially leading to reduced wait times, more accurate diagnosis and faster recoveries.
AI provides the ability to aggregate and analyze enormous data sets, with the possibility of plotting the effects of different types of intervention. Ultimately, AI could step in to inform lifesaving discoveries and identify new treatment strategies.
Looking Past The Pandemic
The COVID-19 crisis has necessitated a rapid rethink about the interactive relationship between healthcare professionals and their patients. We’re seeing more remote alternatives for certain services, with professionals from physicians to mental health therapists moving to video consultations in order to avoid interactions that risk spreading the virus. This new paradigm—with mobile devices, data platforms and networks one day powered by 5G—could accelerate a future of healthcare that’s patient-centric while saving time and money.
There are major financial gains to be made too, as healthcare expenses take a major toll on national GDP. McKinsey suggests that up to $410 billion in annual value could be achieved by 2025 by prioritizing “technology-driven innovation” in healthcare. And as use cases move forward today and 5G promises to fuel further advancement, the industry may be more ready than ever to eliminate barriers to care and move to a more distributed, patient-centric framework.
This article originally appeared at forbes.com