In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vodafone has released a report on the potential of 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) technology in health and social care.
Better Health, Connected Health: How 5G and IoT Technology can Transform Health and Social Care found overwhelming support for the introduction and increase of digital technologies in the NHS, including 5G and IoT, as a way of streamlining healthcare and making it more affordable.
This could pave the way for smart buildings, which would be greener and save the NHS money; 5G-connected ambulances that link paramedics and clinicians to treat patients faster and more effectively; and even the roll-out of remote assisted surgery and training, saving time and potentially elevating the quality of care.
WHY IT MATTERS
The findings of the research identified that 57% of those surveyed would be comfortable continuing to conduct some of their medical appointments over video after the pandemic is over, which equates to a demand for quality internet connectivity for NHS staff and patients alike.
It also found that 75% of respondents believed the government should invest in digital technology for the NHS, in order to future-proof the UK health sector. This was matched by 71% who believed that the 40 new hospitals promised by the government by 2030 should be equipped with the latest digital technology.
In response to these results, the report laid out a series of government recommendations, including NHS estate upgrade and innovation, including in care homes to tackle loneliness; increased social and technological prescribing to treat long-term conditions; investment in 5G connected ambulances and delivery drones; and financial support for devices compliant with NHS digital services for those on low incomes.
THE LARGER PICTURE
In July of last year, Vodafone launched its 5G network in seven UK cities, not just improving access to telemedicine and virtual reality training but also enabling remote surgery. This move was recommended across the pond by AT&T who stressed the importance of 5G and IoT tech in a HIMSS Digital presentation.
The report was published shortly after NHS Digital signed a deal to implement a new FHIR-compliant terminology system to improve data sharing.
Vodafone was also one of many telecommunications companies to offer increased support to the NHS towards the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ON THE RECORD
“The possibilities unleashed by 5G and IoT touch almost every part of the healthcare system, from the visible (remote surgery, or drones carrying transplant organs and drugs between hospitals) to the unseen but vital (IoT-enabled hospital equipment management systems that use sensors to automatically monitor stock levels),” says Anne Sheehan, the business director of Vodafone UK.
“This technology is already available and the NHS should take advantage of it now. We have a perfect opportunity to ensure that digital technology is designed in from the start, so that the hospitals of the future can use the technology of the future.”
Professor Shafi Ahmed, CMO of Medical Realities and Connected Health Ambassador for Vodafone, told Healthcare IT News: “What the UK patient population has experienced in the last nine months is different kind of health service that’s more flexible. For the patients themselves, it’s much more immediate and accessible and patients are far more [digitally] advanced than we expected. It has changed people’s perceptions about how health can be accessed and what they’re expecting from the health service."
When asked about practical next steps, Ahmed responded: “It’s about putting the right stakeholders together – academic institutions, policy-makers in government and industry leaders – and asking things like ‘what does [NHS digital innovation] look like? What are the barriers to digital transformation?’ It’s about collaboration of all those parties that want change, that want to improve the healthcare of the nation.”