Kelly Rozumalski, a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, said 5G will bring "huge opportunities" to healthcare, but added that with "innovation comes risk."
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Kelly Rozumalski is a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, leading the consulting firm's "secure connected health initiatives and health cybersecurity portfolio."
Rozumalski spoke with HealthLeaders about the nationwide shift to 5G, which she said will bring "huge opportunities" to healthcare, but added that with "innovation comes risk."
This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
HealthLeaders: At a high level, what are your expectations for how 5G will impact the healthcare industry?
Rozumalski: 5G will soon revolutionize global telecommunications. It will forge connections between physical devices and the digital world that share, compute, and actionize information with unprecedented speed, size, and responsiveness.
Telecommunications networks will become virtualized and incorporate open-source software, driving down costs, and will be easily tailored to specific users' operational needs. This technology will empower diverse sectors, including healthcare, to adopt new operating models, gaining novel insights, and driving efficiencies.
HL: What changes related to nationwide 5G should hospital and health system executives be aware of? How about those in the payer community?
Rozumalski: 5G will change how healthcare professionals train, interact with patients and deliver treatment. Patients will likely increasingly use at-home monitoring and treatment devices traditionally found in hospitals, gathering vast quantities of data that can be used by their providers and the health sector. Physicians could use 5G devices to collect and access rich data from anywhere and serve distant patients.
A few specific examples of the benefits of 5G in a healthcare setting include:
- Real-time monitoring: Health monitoring through connected medical devices can generate real-time data about patients that providers can use to improve health outcomes. At scale, analytics applied to these massive volumes of patient data could lead to new or improved treatments.
- AR/VR training: 5G also enables augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), combined with multi-access edge compute (MEC), to simulate complex medical scenarios, improving the physician training experience, and ultimately, resulting in better patient outcomes.
- Clinical review: Physicians could use handheld devices to access within seconds high-resolution digital imagery, videos, 3D models, and patient records without needing to use a terminal.
- Surgery: 5G can meet data-intense, millisecond-latency requirements necessary for telesurgery, allowing doctors to remotely operate responsive, high-precision surgical robots.
HL: How is clinical training likely to be altered by 5G capabilities? Additionally, how will the industry build off of technological solutions and telehealth services that went into the mainstream over the past year?
Rozumalski: While the adoption of telemedicine and telehealth has accelerated over the past year at an extremely fast pace, it has been impacted by a lack of adequate digital connectivity supporting the large amount of data required to provide real-time virtual healthcare.
Providing low latency and greater bandwidth, 5G technology will enable the more effective delivery of healthcare – including augmented reality training for telemedicine and medical training. Imagine connecting remote sites to 5G telemedicine services to enable collaborative medical training like never before with operational support through immersive augmented reality and virtual reality experiences.
It’s possible with 5G’s high bandwidth and ultra-reliable low latency capability, which streams real-time audio/video indoors and out without loss of quality. With this solution, we will also see an improved 3D rendering of complex anatomy. This is especially useful for medical centers with a widely distributed and rural customer base.
HL: Are there any potential downside risks to the expansion of 5G and what can healthcare executives do to mitigate them?
Rozumalski: 5G will bring huge opportunities. But, with this innovation comes risk. The deployment of exponentially more and varied mission-critical internet of things (IoT) devices will present threat actors with new opportunities to disrupt the economy, public health, and safety. These devices will generate massive volumes of data that can be stolen, destroyed, or manipulated.
Virtual networks customized for specific sectors and organizations will encourage new targeted threats against them. New software and hardware supply chains will make untrusted components common in the 5G ecosystem. These risks are especially critical in the healthcare space, where medical information is highly valuable to cybercriminals and data must be protected to preserve patient privacy and safety.
In addition, while 5G has the ability to operate in high band frequencies to provide faster traffic (enhanced mobile broadband), the higher frequencies have a shorter range and are in licensed spectrum. 5G also has the ability to operate in other lower frequencies (mid-band and low band) that include unlicensed spectrum. In a hospital setting, careful consideration needs to be given to the selection of frequencies, balancing range, speed, interference, and reliability.
Hospitals already experience connectivity issues with some of their network-connected devices (e.g., computers on wheels) that roam around a hospital and can find areas of poor network connection. To solve coverage challenges at a large scale, carriers are leveraging a combination of low band, mid-band, and high band spectrum. Hospitals will have to carefully consider range and speed when deploying 5G networks.
Jack O'Brien is the Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.
Photo credit: October 16, 2020, Brazil. In this photo illustration the Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corporation logo seen displayed on a smartphone / Editorial credit: rafapress / Shutterstock.com