28th Oct 2021
5G stocks aren’t just for gamers and smartphone users. Their impact on healthcare means they could be vital for everybody. Analysts at PWC observe that “5G could help transform healthcare, providing networking reliability, speed and scale that advance medicine, patient services, treatments and wellness programs in significant ways.” 1
Nowhere is that more necessary than the US, where the healthcare system is generally agreed to be “expensive, complicated, dysfunctional, and broken.”2 The US spends more on healthcare than any other high-income nation3, but has some of the worst outcomes for key measures, including life expectancy, preventable hospital admissions, and suicide.4
While there are many aspects that need to be fixed that go beyond technology, the new 5G connectivity standard could breathe new life into healthcare both in the US, and in countries across the globe.
Poor communication precludes connected healthcare
Dr. Robert Pearl, physician and former CEO of Kaiser Permanente, identifies poor communication and connectivity as a critical fault in the healthcare system. “We have (physicians) across the United States (who are) fragmented, isolated from each other and not even sharing a common electronic health record,” he said, adding that the main way that doctors in the US share patient information is by fax.5
Patient health information can even get lost within the same hospital or healthcare network.
Many healthcare organizations have out of date networks and IT systems, resulting in a patchwork of legacy health architecture that traps critical patient information in data silos. Without a connected understanding of patient health, doctors are more liable to make mistakes in diagnosis and treatment.
Healthcare systems are understaffed
A number of countries are facing a dramatic shortage of doctors, nurses, and other trained healthcare workers. In the US, the Association of American Medical Colleges forecasts that the country could lack 104,900 doctors by the year 20306; the UK is predicted to need another 190,000 new doctors by 2027; and Belgium, the Netherlands, and much of France and Eastern Europe are all also facing a shortfall.7
Even in countries with plenty of healthcare workers, residents in rural areas can struggle to access them due to a concentration of doctors in the cities, vast distances between services, and poor terrain.
COVID-19 was the final straw
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a knockout blow to this already fragile health ecosystem8. Nurses had to monitor far more patients than usual, spending several minutes struggling into full PPE every time. Overwhelmed hospitals sent low-risk patients home to free up beds for critical covid patients, and in-person doctor visits became all but impossible. The number of people with complex, multi-system conditions like long covid soared while available resources plummeted.
The need for an upgraded healthcare system may have never been greater.
5G could hold some of the answers
5G promises low latency, high reliability and throughput, and the ability to support more devices per connection than previous generational networks.
Improved connectivity opens up possibilities for fast data sharing to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) engines that can perform powerful analysis; Internet of Things (IoT) sensors that connect medical devices; augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) systems that enhance real world processes; and more.
Remote health monitoring brings improved patient outcomes
The pandemic drove home the need for effective remote health monitoring, whether for patients with chronic conditions like diabetes, elderly people in understaffed care homes, or others wishing to engage their own wellness. 5G enables IoT sensors in wearable devices or implanted into the body, providing a constant flow of accurate health data in real time, and delivering early warnings about impending health events so that interventions can be carried out in time.
5G-powered advanced AI and ML analytics can mine this data to predict how patients will respond to different treatment possibilities, forecast recovery rates, and select patients for clinical trials. ML helps physicians interpret medical images and supports personalized treatment decisions in real time, to improve healthcare delivery, diagnostics, and treatment decisions.
Forrester predicts that adoption of wearable medical devices will surge9, and a survey by Deloitte found that 41% of people in the UK and 39% of Canadians would agree to an embedded chest device if they had a history of heart disease.10
Lag-free data sharing enables better communication
Simply replacing communication by fax with instant, secure digital communications could make the world of difference for healthcare systems. Data sharing in healthcare is crucial, but healthcare generates as much as 30% of the world’s stored data.11
5G architectures enable medical providers to store, share, and manage large data in real time, especially imaging files like MRIs. “Image transfers can be time-consuming. 5G will address this problem by allowing for the lightning-fast transmission of even the largest image files, such as MRIs,” says Luke Kopetsky, public affairs coordinator at the CTIA12. High density image sharing will become even more important as the CMS increasingly moves procedures to outpatient surgery, which rely on accurate imaging for surgical decision-making.
Over 5G networks, remote experts in different subspecialties can confer in real time, sharing images and scans, to improve treatment for patients with complex, multi-system conditions like long covid.
5G’s latency-free networks also power telemedicine, which got its first mass trial during COVID-19. 77% of Americans said they were very or completely satisfied with a virtual health visit, making it likely that telemedicine adoption will continue to rise. It opens up the possibility of remote surgical procedures, with an expert consultant guiding a robotic surgeon hundreds of miles away13.
5G could resuscitate healthcare
This is just the tip of the iceberg for 5G-enabled healthcare. Other use cases include:
- More efficient hospital management using 5G tags that track the movement of people and equipment around the facility, to optimize allocation of equipment and space.
- AR headsets for healthcare workers that speed up triaging under pressure, syncing patient details with available resources in real time.14
- IoT disinfection systems that use UV light to sterilize equipment faster and to a higher standard, enabling swifter turnarounds at times of high demand.15
- Data gathering and analysis apps collect real time health information from millions of users to predict and prevent the next outbreak of infectious diseases, and guide health resources to high-risk areas.
- Improved pharmaceutical research with faster clinical trials, thanks to accurate data from IoT systems, and more innovation from AI analysis of anonymized patient data.
A recent report concludes that “Various Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT) technologies will be a game-changer for the healthcare ecosystem in the coming decade in terms of systems, processes, and services delivery.”16
Healthcare is an essential, not a luxury, so the critical involvement of 5G stocks in overhauling the system bodes well for the future of the 5G market. With healthcare emerging bruised from the pandemic and in desperate need of support from 5G-powered applications, investors should give 5G stocks to buy a second look.
1 “5G in Healthcare” 2020 https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/industries/tmt/5g/pwc-5g-in-healthcare.pdf
2 “Is our healthcare system broken?” July 13, 2021 https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-our-healthcare-system-broken-202107132542
3 “Is our healthcare system broken?” July 13, 2021 https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-our-healthcare-system-broken-202107132542
4 “U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, 2019: Higher Spending, Worse Outcomes?” January 30, 2020 https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2020/jan/us-health-care-global-perspective-2019?gclid=Cj0KCQjw7pKFBhDUARIsAFUoMDbVZBN2PrzOlYBZvEe8qGs1PvCiAAxHemHZb_FjjCnAbSdQ0LSPChYaAmLYEALw_wcB
5 “Why the US health care system is broken and how it can be fixed” July 26, 2021 https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/article/industrynews/why-the-us-health-care-system-is-broken-and-how-it-can-be-fixed/
6 “Reassessing the Data on Whether a Physician Shortage Exists” May 16, 2017 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2613209
7 “Europe has a shortage of doctors” November 30, 2018 https://www.europeandatajournalism.eu/eng/News/Data-news/Europe-has-a-shortage-of-doctors
8 “Hospitals Face A Shortage Of Nurses As COVID Cases Soar” August 10, 2021 lhttps://www.npr.org/2021/08/10/1026577164/hospitals-face-a-shortage-of-nurses-as-covid-cases-soar
9 “Predictions 2021: Technology Diversity Drives IoT Growth” October 28, 2020 https://go.forrester.com/blogs/predictions-2021-technology-diversity-drives-iot-growth/
10 “Patient engagement 2.0” July 31, 2020 https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/life-sciences/patient-engagement-technology.html
11 “Using It or Losing It? The Case for Data Scientists Inside Health Care” May 4, 2017 https://catalyst.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/CAT.17.0493
12 “TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow:How5GWillTransformHealthcare” August 6, 2019 https://www.ctia.org/news/the-doctor-will-see-you-now-how-5g-will-transform-healthcare
13 “Patient engagement 2.0” July 31, 2020 https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/life-sciences/patient-engagement-technology.html
15 “XENEX Uses AT&T Connectivity to Help Destroy Viruses, Bacteria & Spores” April 7, 2020 https://iotbusinessnews.com/2020/04/07/81584-xenex-uses-att-connectivity-to-help-destroy-viruses-bacteria-spores/
16 “IoT in the Global Healthcare Market 2021-2026: Internet of Healthcare Things (IoHT) Technologies Will be Game-Changer for Healthcare Ecosystem” July 21, 2021 https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2021/07/21/2266200/28124/en/IoT-in-the-Global-Healthcare-Market-2021-2026-Internet-of-Healthcare-Things-IoHT-Technologies-Will-be-Game-Changer-for-Healthcare-Ecosystem.html