5G and what it means for medical practices

faster, more reliable connections

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5G is the next step in mobile internet. Similar to how you may already use 4G mobile data, business WiFi, or ethernet cables to get your internet, 5G aims to outclass other methods of internet connection by offering faster, more reliable bandwidth.

Not to be confused with speed, bandwidth is how much information you receive every second, while speed is how fast that information is received or downloaded. Let’s compare it to filling a bathtub. If the bathtub faucet has a wide opening, more water can flow at a faster rate than if the pipe was narrower. Thinking more literally, the width of the pipe allows for more water to come through at the same time. A higher bandwidth connection allows more simultaneous information to come through and thus a higher rate of data transfer.

One central barrier stands in the way of reliable, instantaneous telecommunication, according to Dr. Shafiq Rab, Chief Information Officer at Rush University in Chicago.The same limitation that makes an internet connection feel slower when trying to download data-heavy files or when multiple users are working on the same network presents a hurdle for burgeoning medical practices like physician-to-physician consultations, at-home monitoring and video-based telemedicine.

“When you go into a crowded place, there are 20 people with everybody going, ‘I can’t download this, I can’t download this,’ ” Rab said as an example. “All those things are limited by bandwidth.”

The business world’s connectivity has made quantum leaps with each generation, as Kate Beaumont, Director Innovation, Technology & Services for Samsung UK – Mobile Division explains: “5G is redefining fast. With blazing speeds that are 10 times quicker than 4G, lower lag times, and much faster connections, there are a whole host of benefits for businesses.

“2G and 3G took us beyond just making calls, enabling us to send texts and even testing a little bit of the web on the move. Then 4G came along and altered the way we consume content on the go in seismic ways, as well as creating new businesses like Uber and Snapchat. All of which laid the foundation for the present leap into 5G.”

MRIs and other image machines are typically very large files, and often must be sent to a specialist for review. When the network is low on bandwidth, the transmission can take a long time or not send successfully. This means the patient waits even longer for treatment and providers can see fewer patients in the same amount of time.

Adding a high-speed 5G network to existing architectures can help quickly and reliably transport huge data files of medical imagery, which can improve both access to care and the quality of care. At the Austin Cancer Center, the PET scanner generates extremely large files — up to 1 gigabyte of information per patient per study.

“To get that much data from one side of the town to another, you’ve got to have the network performance to handle it,” says Jason Lindgren, CIO of Austin Cancer Center. “We used to have to send the files after hours. Now as soon as the patient leaves the scanner, the study is already on its way. It’s beneficial to doctors because they can get the results that they need quicker.”