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Covid, complexity and the role of 5G in transforming healthcare

Tony Robbins, the respected coach, motivational speaker and philanthropist, declared “complexity is the enemy of execution.”

There is currently nowhere this phrase rings more truly than in the NHS, with pressures from interconnected health challenges and co-morbidities, operational issues and legacy constraints. Sometimes it’s a wonder that so many demonstrably great leaps forward in healthcare provision have been achieved.

Often though, as demonstrated through the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s essential to cut through the complexity and focus clearly on the challenges.

NHS England Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens in outlining 2014’s ‘Five year Forward View’ stated that “obesity is the new smoking, and it represents a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising health care costs.” Get serious about obesity or bankrupt the NHS was the cry, particularly as diabetes, or rather its treatment – which costs the NHS billions of pounds and adversely impact millions of lives – is a significant part of this issue.

Six years on have we grasped the challenge and cut through the complexity? Frankly, no. Despite widespread acceptance that digital solutions are needed to tackle the scale of the challenge the response has not been proportionate to the need. Many small-scale digital pilots have been funded but none have been adopted at scale. The long-term plan declared around £3 million had been set aside to accelerate one particular digital solution but this feels a little like a ‘kite in a hurricane’ given the scale of the challenge.

As Covid continues to challenge politicians, healthcare systems and communities it’s hard not to assert that had we really used digital interventions to get to grips with obesity and diabetes over the past six years we might have eased the pressure on NHS resources, freeing up capacity for Coronavirus infections, while simultaneously reducing the Covid-susceptibility for a significant group of the population.

It is becoming more and more evident that the solutions that have worked and made a difference to staff and patients are the simple solutions that fit seamlessly into practice.

We need simple, effective and intuitive technologies that are ready to be applied en-masse with little or no training.

At WM5G we believe that connectivity is the key underpinning requirement for delivering the transformational healthcare that is clearly needed. Connectivity enables us to unleash the true power of digital solutions across care pathways by providing ubiquitous, robust access to healthcare provision at the point of need. Rather than just being available at the hospital or clinic, these can be delivered in the community or at the patient’s home.

At the preventative end of the healthcare spectrum, greater connectivity allows patients to utilise personal devices which access a wide range of data that supports wellness. For example, in making decisions for a healthy walk, run or cycle it’s possible to access a range of ground and satellite based information on weather and air quality that can inform better decisions on when and where to exercise.

Connectivity also supports emergency response, connecting clinicians and enabling real-time transfer of detailed, dynamic information. It supports improved screening and diagnostic programmes, supporting improved patient experience through technologies such as VR or enabling rapid data transfer during diagnostic sessions.

Technology in healthcare brings safety and freedom. Patients can better manage conditions while clinicians are able to improve patient safety through more efficient provision of care, analysis of data and access to expert opinion.

Our trials to date have seen how 5G enables effective solutions that will provide exceptional benefits to the way in which we deliver care. We will increasingly see complex diagnostic procedures and assistive living support being available in patients own homes with a combination of AI and superfast connectivity afforded through 5G supporting safe procedures outside of a clinical setting. The end result will be methods of treatment that will streamline services, reduce waiting times and improve patient outcomes.

I recently attended Mobile World Congress, a hybrid physical and virtual conference in Barcelona. Alongside experts from Vodafone, Pepsico and Airbus, we showcased the impact that IoT and digital technology has had on our organisations. This included reflections of how we see this impact evolving over the coming years, with a growing focus on partnerships to drive scalability.

In a world beyond Covid, the NHS needs to embrace digital technologies more rapidly to improve patient safety and through its increased speed, reliability and low latency, 5G (and increased partnerships across the sector) will be a key factor in making this happen.

We look forward to obesity and diabetes being high on the priority list.

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