Berg Insight participated in the MWC for the 15th year in a row.
5G mobile technology has been one of the main topics during MWC since a couple of years back and this year’s conference is no exception. The telecom industry is now ready to roll out 5G to the world and conference participants were eager to address the implementation of 5G in various use cases. As a researcher in mHealth, I travelled to Barcelona with a specific question in mind: What impact will the roll-out of 5G have on the healthcare industry?
A promising healthcare application this year was the 5G ambulance, as showcased both by Ericsson and the Catalonian Government. Actors demonstrated how a medical doctor could remotely assess a patient using a high-quality video showing the inside of the ambulance as well as a live ultrasound image and standard vital signs such as blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen saturation. This will likely be among the first applications of 5G in the healthcare industry. Video-solutions for stroke assessment in ambulances are already being tested around the world, although currently on 4G networks, for example in Sweden, the UK and the US.
The demonstration that drew most attention was however an event named the “First 5G telementored live surgery!”. A room full of journalists watched a team of doctors removing a cancerous tumour – all mentored by a medical doctor standing on stage in front of the audience. The surgical team was three miles away in an operating room at the Hospital Clinic Barcelona. The on-stage doctor could guide the operating surgeons during the procedure by watching the live video feed of the patient. Thanks to the low latency and high-quality video provided by the 5G connection, guidance could be given in real-time. The value of telementoring is the sharing of surgical expertise throughout the world. With 5G based telementoring, local surgeons can learn from experts in the field without having to relocate. Likewise, more patients can eventually undergo procedures that were previously only accessible via expensive and distant travels. The event was arranged in collaboration with the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, Advances in Surgery (AIS) channel, Vodafone Spain, GSMA and the Mobile World Capital of Barcelona.
On the hall floor, a handful of vendors showcased wrist-worn monitors for measuring heart rate variability and blood pressure based on photoplethysmography (PPG). While none were approved for diagnostic use, a few devices had received either a CE mark or an FDA 510(k) approval for continuous monitoring. These can be used for detecting deviations in the patient’s health status which could then be addressed in further examinations. Those that are interested could for example take a closer look at Biobeat or OnePulse. Other medical devices that were showcased include Sense4Care’s Parkinson’s disease Holter monitor, InsulClock’s insulin pen connector, Comarch’s ECG vest and Italtel’s 5G ECG t-shirt.
5G may not result in a palette of new use cases for healthcare, especially considering the slow adoption of innovation in this industry. However, it will be a prerequisite for the continuing expansion of existing use cases. As a key improvement in 5G networks will be increased capacity, 5G will enable more connected devices than the currently crowded LTE networks. An important note was also made during the conference: about 80–85 percent of healthcare services are provided in a primary care setting. Meanwhile, technological development is often focused on advanced hospital solutions. Perhaps the following years is the time to really scale-up existing mHealth solutions and alleviate the pressure on the primary care systems and make healthcare more efficient for the millions of patients around the world living with diabetes, asthma, COPD, hypertension, arrhythmia or heart failure.
Sebastian Hellström, Berg Insight
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