How 5G could help improve health care in rural areas

FILED - Driverless transport systems, video consultation hours and robot-assisted operations: Researchers hope 5G will bring faster health care into rural areas. Photo: Monika Skolimowska/dpa

How 5G could help improve health care in rural areas
FILED – Driverless transport systems, video consultation hours and robot-assisted operations: Researchers hope 5G will bring faster health care into rural areas. Photo: Monika Skolimowska/dpa

Live footage transferred from ambulance to hospital and medical records available anywhere in an instant: Health care researchers hope that 5G, the hotly anticipated next generation of wireless Internet, will be transformational when it comes to delivering medical help in rural areas.

The absence of local doctors and public transport make life in the countryside more difficult, especially for older people, but researchers in Germany believe faster Internet connections may be the key to solving this problem.

The Amberg-Weiden University of Applied Sciences in the German state of Bavaria is researching the areas in which 5G could improve health care for patients in remote parts of the country.

Since the beginning of 2020, professors Clemens Bulitta and Steffen Hamm have been working on a concept together with their team of 15 researchers.

5G won’t solve all problems in health care, says Hamm. But higher network speeds will bring several advantages.

“This could be during treatment in the ambulance, when data is transmitted in real time to the hospital, or in the emergency room or in the patient’s room,” says Hamm.

Driverless transport systems, video consultation hours and robot-assisted operations are just some of the other possibilities that researchers are considering.

A nationwide public 5G network is not absolutely necessary to improve healthcare, adds Bulitta. It could be a specific care facility, a hospital or just a single operating room that could be equipped with 5G.

The pandemic in particular has shown how important digital communication is, Bulitta says. 5G can support telemedicine by allowing large amounts of footage to be transmitted quickly.

In addition, with higher network capacity, many users could be active simultaneously without overloading the network. Especially with urgent, sensitive data, the connection must function without interruption.

By researching technical, legal and ethical questions, the project aim to provide political leaders, medical companies and hospitals with recommendations for action.

The team takes fictitious patients and then works out in which area 5G would be helpful – in prevention, diagnostics, therapy, rehabilitation or care.

In addition to the possibilities, the team also wants to sound out the limits of 5G. Is data protection guaranteed when dealing with patient files? Is adequate IT security in place or could online medical tools be disrupted or even switched off from outside?

However, with everything that might be technically and legally feasible, the researchers are also wondering whether it is ethically justifiable.

For example, the social aspect of doctor-patient interaction should not be lost if health care becomes increasingly digital.

Especially in rural areas, where elderly people are perhaps more alone anyway due to lack of mobility, personal contact should not be further restricted, says Bulitta. On the contrary: if doctors can speed up some work processes with the help of digital tools, they may have more time for personal contact with patients. – dpa

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