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September 30, 2020

Healthcare & Technology: What’s 5G got to do with it?

Written by Heather Goe, BS, DBA

Editing provided by Nayiri-Tara

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As Data becomes more readily available, many are energized by the innovative implications and this includes healthcare professionals.


Wearable devices, implantable medical devices, medical imaging, and remote monitoring are all currently utilized and have been for some time now.  The Pacemaker, an artificial device for stimulating the heart muscle and regulating its contractions, was first introduced in the 50’s.  With the innate rapid pace of technology and the introduction of the internet for public use in the 80’s, it’s not especially shocking that by 2013 94% of all Pharmacies were E-Prescribing. E-Prescribing is a prescriber's ability to electronically send an accurate, error-free and understandable prescription directly to a pharmacy from the point-of-care. 


A 2017 study by Market Research Future, concluded that telemedicine could be expected to grow at a compounded growth rate of 16.5% from 2017 to 2023.  Factoring in the recent developments delivered courtesy of COVID-19, I believe anyone would agree that telemedicine is surely on track for rapid growth and expansion. Many states have also made efforts to lift previous restrictions on telehealth amid COVID-19, even going as far as mandating telehealth coverage under commercial health plans and Medicaid.


Sending Data is a key factor in how 5G will help

5G is a wireless mobile system which provides a way for devices, both mobile and stationary, to send and receive data.  Wirelessly means exactly that, no need for wires or plugs; the data, for all intents and purposes, magically flies through the air invisibly.  5G, meaning fifth generation can be thought of as the successor to 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G.  With every new generation there has been an increase or change/upgrade to frequency bands and operational modes; however 5G stands alone due to the amount of new frequency spectrum being added, and where in the regime of the electromagnetic spectrum these frequencies reside.  5G is proposed to be the fastest way to send data wirelessly and enables a much wider range of applications. 


Quickly transmitting large imaging files, such as MRI’s, leads many clinicians to opting to add a 5G network to their practices’ existing architecture.  More reliable and immediate real-time remote monitoring via wearable devices also aids in the persuasion.  Being able to better communicate with more patients is important for most of today’s providers, but ensuring consistent free flowing data between machines is too.


The ‘Internet of Things’ (loT) means The Internet of Medical Things 

The Internet of Medical Things (also called the internet of health things) is an application of the IoT for medical and health related purposes, data collection and analysis for research, and Monitoring.  Health IoT gathers, transmits and analyzes data derived from electronic health records (EHR) containing personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), patient generated health data, and other machine-generated healthcare data. Health IoT supports services such as real-time monitoring, medication compliance, and imaging.


As wonderful and helpful as many of these devices are, security and privacy implications become equally vital.  Much governmental oversight has been established providing ‘best practices’, policies, and regulation.  Regulations of medical devices begin early with the manufacturers required to employ specific codes of conduct by incorporating technical safeguards (i.e., security features) in their devices during the design phase of their product.  This guidance seeks to assist manufacturers in considering cybersecurity controls during development of medical devices. 


Cybersecurity concerns although different from patient safety risks, can still affect patient safety. Widespread and daily telehealth practice involves threats and vulnerabilities for cybersecurity issues and can be much broader in scope than the typical safety hazard, harm, or device failure. For instance, usage of smartphone apps were not allowed under HIPAA regulations before COVID-19. Legislative efforts also introduced several potential bills, one of them being the Coronavirus Containment Corps Act, so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could create a tracing system to prevent health information misuse and automatically delete data after its use.


There is still so much to learn about this new up-and-coming technology and the actual ramifications of this merger.  

 


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