One central barrier stands in the way of reliable, instantaneous telecommunication, according to Dr. Shafiq Rab, chief information officer at Rush University System for Health: internet bandwidth.
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.”
That’s why Rush, an academic health system in Chicago, plans to be the first U.S. healthcare organization to formally try using 5G—the newest generation of wireless internet—in a hospital setting.
5G internet connectivity is expected to revolutionize nearly every industry. President Donald Trump has been one of its top advocates, calling 5G deployment a “race America must win” during a briefing last month. As part of his remarks, Trump pledged to take steps to encourage local governments and telecom companies to invest in 5G.
“5G will be as much as 100 times faster than the current 4G cellular networks,” Trump said, according to a White House transcript. “It will transform the way our citizens work, learn, communicate and travel. It will make American farms more productive, American manufacturing more competitive, and American healthcare better and more accessible.”
And health IT experts say that may, indeed, happen.
On a 5G network, a user could load a webpage or download a file somewhere between 10 and 100 times faster than today. Most major smartphone developers plan to release devices that support 5G connectivity this year—in fact, a handful already have—making it possible 5G service will be broadly available in the U.S. by 2020.
That makes Rush one of the “pioneers” of 5G, according to Rab. “But I think by the end of this year, it will become popular everywhere,” he added.
The College of Healthcare Information Management Executives has been touting the technology’s benefits, as well. The group made its voice heard earlier this year, submitting a statement to a Senate subcommittee ahead of a hearing it convened with telecom providers and government officials to discuss the importance of deploying 5G nationwide.
In its statement, CHIME—which is chaired by Rab—said there’s “no question that the infusion of 5G into healthcare will enhance access to care.”
“We need faster, better capabilities to be able to leverage the kinds of technologies that are both in the marketplace and entering the marketplace,” Leslie Krigstein, CHIME’s vice president of congressional affairs, said in an interview after the hearing.