If 3G wireless service was like living in a small city apartment, and 4G akin to moving to a family home with a backyard, transitioning to 5G wireless is analogous to becoming the sole owner and resident of an entire skyscraper. The difference in speed, capacity and latency between 5G and its predecessors is exponential. While U.S. carriers will be rolling out their 5G networks and devices through 2020, healthcare providers need to plan for 5G right now. Its capabilities could accelerate the growth of several new business models that we see as critical to enabling providers to compete as the industry shifts to consumer-driven, value-based care.

5G: The basics

5G is a new generation of technology, not a mere extension or upgrade of today’s 4G networks. It should enable data transfer at 10 gigabits per second, compared to the 300 megabits per second maximum speed of a 4G LTE network For comparison, one telecom provider notes that it takes about 13 minutes to download a 4.7GB movie to a smartphone over 4G. With 5G, the same file will download in just 4 seconds.

Further, 5G has extremely low latency—just 1 millisecond—and large carrying capacity so that devices can interact nearly instantaneously. The exponential increase comes into play again: It’s not a handful or even hundreds of devices: 5G can support up to 1 million sensors per square kilometer.

While the implications of speed, capacity and low latency for gaming and entertainment get a lot of attention, business use cases also are compelling. Businesses told Gartner that they intend to deploy 5G throughout 2020. Their top uses were likely to be Internet of Things (IoT) communications, video, controls and automation, fixed wireless access, edge analytics, location tracking and augmented and virtual reality applications.

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5G & IoT Are Ushering In The Future With Intelligent Connectivity

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Healthcare providers similarly should start making their 5G application lists. Network service providers will be able to customize “slices” of their 5G networks to support specific healthcare use cases. Low latency would be the primary requirement for asset tracking and management in a hospital, while a telehealth offering would also require high speed and capacity. With this flexibility, the technology should help accelerate adoption and expansion of these new business models that we see as natural evolutions of initial investments and experiments that providers are making:

  • Healthcare anywhere. This model builds on telehealth and telepresence offerings, which 5G can supercharge. 5G enables constant data streaming from all types of sensors, devices and wearables. This data can be processed in real time at the network edge. That could help with more proactive monitoring of chronic conditions and even enable automated responses, such as alerting an individual, caregiver and emergency services that someone is showing signals for, say, an imminent cardiac event. In-home medical devices wouldn’t necessarily need to be intelligent when data processing is done in the cloud, which could make them more affordable and ubiquitous. The upshot is that 5G is likely to help consumers take more control over when and how they receive care. Providers can use 5G to meet them at those times and places.
  • Hospital as a serviceSome providers already offer their care expertise virtually to other providers in remote locations. 5G could expand possibilities here, when large MRI and other imaging files are available in seconds. 5G also has the bandwidth and low latency necessary for multiple people to experience the same augmented or virtual reality. That could enable physicians to remotely guide diagnostic, therapeutic or surgical equipment or robots. The bottom line is that 5G could enable more sophisticated care to be delivered virtually in locations in which it was previously unavailable.
  • Platform plays. Just as smartphones sparked innovation in apps, 5G will likely drive a new wave of applications and devices that should advance the emergence of the consumer-to-business, on-demand healthcare platforms we’ve been predicting. Large health systems could aggregate new 5G healthcare services and become platform providers. The technology’s speed and low latency could enhance platforms offering care management, health coaching and social determinant of health services coordination.


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What to do now

One provider, Rush System for Health in Chicago, is implementing 5G throughout its campus to improve hospital operations, provide better experiences to patients and staff and reduce costs. New industry players from tech and corporate worlds, such as Amazon and Walmart, are likely to bring 5G-based solutions into healthcare, strengthening their connections with consumers. To ensure that they are on the same playing field, healthcare providers need to be thinking about 5G now. Here are some practical considerations:

  • Ensure that strategic plans and roadmaps incorporate 5G capabilities. CEOs, COOs, CIOs and chief medical officers should jointly brainstorm new business cases and operating models based on new abilities to collect, analyze and transmit data in real time. These can include new services to offer patients at home or in rural locations; new tracking systems internally for equipment, devices, operating rooms, and imaging facilities; and new partnerships with local smart-city initiatives, such as receiving data from traffic systems and emergency vehicles.
  • Meet your 5G service provider. Find out what capabilities are available now and what their roadmaps are for true 5G networks. Work with carriers to develop rollout roadmaps that match your organization’s priorities: e.g., internal and campus network upgrades and/or enhancing remote care capabilities. Find out what network slices the provider can offer to align with priority use cases.
  • Get ready for a data deluge. IDC estimates that the six billion people circa 2025 with connectivity will have at least one data interaction every 18 seconds, with most of those through IoT. That rate will generate about 90 zettabytes (ZB) of data. While your organization may not be dealing with zettabytes of data, 5G could open the data floodgates. It’s imperative to develop comprehensive data management strategies to address how to collect, analyze and store new streams of data from a wide array of sensors.
  • Tackle privacy and security now. Along with data management, information security and strategies for privacy and compliance will be critical to riding the 5G wave instead of being swamped by it.
  • Educate stakeholders. Help caregivers and other stakeholders understand the potential of 5G in clinical and operations processes so they can contribute to use cases. It could make sense to create a 5G center of excellence that would collect and evaluate ideas. Similarly, reach out to patient populations to explain 5G plans and their potential impact on care. Expect also to feel pressure from consumers to offer 5G-enabled services.

For more information, please read our white paper “Healthcare On Demand: New Provider Business Models for the Digital Economy,” visit the Healthcare section of our website, or contact us.

This Perspectives article was written by Vanessa Pawlak, AVP Cognizant Healthcare Consulting and Gayathri Sourirajan, Director Cognizant Healthcare Consulting. For more information, please contact us @ inquiry@cognizant.com.