The advent of IoT has brought a revolution in the urban setting which today we call it as the ‘smart city’. The concept has penetrated each and every urban sector including the healthcare industry. However, IoT is essentially linked with two major concerns which are security and capacity. And, the most recent buzz regarding the disruptive nature of 5G and blockchain has lead to speculations that these two innovative technological concepts will address the issues – strategically.
So, how these two technologies can help the healthcare system if used together? Let’s find it out!
Impact Of 5G In Smart Healthcare – Solving The Capacity Problem
As per Dr Shafiq Rab, chief information officer at Rush University for Health, Chicago, internet bandwidth stands as one of the critical barriers on the road to achieving reliable and instantaneous telecommunication.
The same barrier comes into the picture, leading to slow internet connections which make downloading huge files loaded with data a difficult and rather time-consuming task. It also impacts when multiple medical practitioners in a healthcare facility are working on the same network. Be it an online doctor-to-doctor consultation or a doctor-to-patient consultation or video-based telemedicine, weak connectivity acts as a limitation in every sphere.
Therefore, in an effort to solve this problem, the Rush academic health system in Chicago is planning to deploy a 5G network in the hospital setting in partnership with AT&T. The goal is to have a 5G-enabled hospital that will reinforce digital healthcare services by improving connectivity.
Recently, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a policy to support broadband extension and wireless internet access in the underserved areas of the US. As per the association, lack of internet access is limiting some of the regions from taking the benefits of digital healthcare services like telemedicine.
In fact, Dr Gerald Harmon, former chairperson of the AMA board of trustees said that patients in underserved areas will face even bigger health challenges without broadband and wireless.
5G is being anticipated to serve as a boon for rural areas. This is mainly because 5G uses small cells or radio equipment that can be easily installed on existing buildings. Nevertheless, this also depends on how tech giants like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon set up the infrastructure in the rural or low-income areas.
Deployment of 5G will bring in great benefits like faster data transmission, seamless data-loaded files download capability, remote monitoring of smart devices and real-time telemedicine visits.
Another big possibility through 5G is achieving widespread robot-assisted telesurgery. This is an activity where any network latency could bring in a major problem.
5G-powered robot-assisted telesurgery was performed in China on a lab animal by Chinese telecom giant Huawei. But the practicability of using technology on real patients is still a decade away.
Coming to the Rush-AT&T partnership, they have entered a “trial agreement” under which the tech company will set up the 5G infrastructure around the healthcare facility of the Rush University. In addition, Rush will also leverage the benefit of integrated services from AT&T that will enable the hospital to route the specific application traffic to different cloud servers so that it can manage traffic across the 5G network.
The 5G initiative will improve all the hospital processes and of course break the main barrier of internet bandwidth, creating a truly ‘smart hospital’.
To be more specific, 5G will open new possibilities for patient care while using machine learning and AI. Alongside, virtual reality and augmented reality will help train medical students to become better doctors. It will also support sending emails and attachments that are as big as 8-10 MB in size.
Furthermore, after the 5G infrastructure is deployed nationwide, it is positively expected that the technology will allow medical staff to exchange data with patients instantaneously from anywhere. It will pave the way for hospital-like monitoring in homes of the patients just like how intensive-care units are monitored today.
Blockchain Impact In The Smart Healthcare – Addressing The Security Concern
Now, with blockchain the picture is different. As we know the benefits of blockchain, it will potentially overcome the security concerns linked with smart healthcare services.
A data infringement is one of the primary concerns when we talk about security in the smart healthcare service or any other digital service for that matter.
For example, at some point in time, you might want to consult a new doctor who would require knowledge about your medical history. Or perhaps, you might need to send a prescription to a pharmacy for medicines. In both cases, you need to give someone access to your medical data stored in an electronic system.
On the healthcare industry side, the constant increase in the patient numbers leads to the increasing volume of data. Hence, as data increases it becomes hard for healthcare facilities to manage, process and store the information.
Besides, in countries like the US where patient data is fragmented or managed by different agencies, it becomes much more difficult for the patient to have control over its own data. According to John Halamka, chief information officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, Massachusetts, there are 26 different electronic medical record systems in his home town.
So, Halamka with a team of scientists at MIT worked on exploring the solution to this problem by the implementation of blockchain. As a result, they published a white paper including a proposal for a system that can aid in secure database exchange. Their project was named as ‘MedRec’.
MedRec is a system that describes that Ethereum software which is reliable for integrating and performing smart contracts compared to the bitcoin. It can support by connecting healthcare providers together and enabling them to share data securely. Also, it can also help patients to share their medical data with healthcare professionals.
Secure sharing of medical data enables healthcare providers to confirm the accuracy and correctness of data which is critical to ensure that the patient receives the right medical service. This when the role of blockchain is considered important as the information on the blockchain is permanently recorded and encrypted.
One major benefit of storing your medical data on the blockchain is that you can control and manage your health data. For instance, an orthopedic does not require access to your sexual health history so the blockchain can allow you to have personal control at this level.
Another rather interesting benefit is that a patient can sell his own medical data to health research studies or drug discovery to make some profits over his health data.
Furthermore, blockchain can ensure that medical data is secured in the healthcare system with the utmost transparency.
Blockchain is set to catalyse rapid advancement of innovative and more efficient smart healthcare record systems, wearable devices, medical examination systems executing AI and cryptography which will become role players in smart hospitals.
Nonetheless, as a matter of fact, there are certain areas where smart healthcare facilities will have to improve if they aim at deploying blockchain. As per Hyperledger survey, 42.9% of healthcare organisations say that the interoperability of electronic health records will help for faster blockchain implementations when 28.6% of participants are already prepared to use the technology in healthcare facilities.
The percentage of the participants that are ready to deploy blockchain is low mainly because even today, many healthcare organisations are unaware of the benefits and impact of blockchain in their care setting.
Lastly, coming to the synergistic role of 5G and blockchain, the benefits they show are completely on a different level. But to combine the benefits and leverage their feasibility, it is essential that smart healthcare systems bid for the right infrastructure and technology along with the second layer of solution which include edge computing, virtual reality, augmented reality, etc. that can enhance value.