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Why the future of healthcare belongs to telco

Monika Gupta
21 Jun 2022

A patient in 2030 will owe more to telco than pharma. Here’s why.

Amazon Basin, 2030

Maria slowly regains consciousness, thoughts and sensations circling her like the mosquitos outside her net. She feels weakness and cold. She feels pain in her stomach. She feels sadness, remembering her mother lying helpless on this same cot a decade earlier. She also feels gratefulness and calm. Maria knows that – unlike her mother – she’s going to be seen by an experienced doctor. She’s going to be fine. In her pocket she holds a lifeline to the rest of the world.

Today, worldwide

Healthcare stats around the world are hard to look at. In 2020, just shy of 150 million children under five were stunted by malnutrition. Every day 830 women and girls die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries. All told, around 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household budgets on health expenses. For almost 100 million people these expenses are high enough to tip them over the edge into extreme poverty.

Advances in medical technology are stunning, but for much of the world’s population, the key is access. This begins with the ability to consult with specialized doctors. Telemedicine has skyrocketed in use over the past few years, but it is still quite limited. Doctors are unable to see or touch their patients, so they rely on self reporting. (Video calls can help, but quality is lacking, even in the most technologically advanced parts of the world.) 5G is about to change this.

Sao Paulo, 2030

Doctor Oliviera answers a call, bringing her face to face with Maria via her screen. Also visible on her screen are Maria’s medical files, with key data sorted to the top. An AI has already taken a stab at diagnosis, drawing together Maria’s symptoms, history, family history and regional data. Dr. Oliviera sees three likely possibilities: intestinal blockage, urinary tract infection, or appendicitis. She slides her hands into her pair of IoT-enabled gloves, all the while talking Maria through the examination. A nurse by Maria’s side is also wearing gloves; she has been trained to work with distant doctors, and to help them examine patients. The nurse puts her hands on Maria’s abdomen, and Dr. Oliviera can feel the swelling. She turns on the gloves’ ultrasound and looks inside. The AI was right – Maria’s appendix will have to come out.

Maria’s village clinic isn’t fit for surgery, so she is taken to the nearest town with a clinic containing an operating room. She is checked in automatically (their system predicted she was coming the moment the diagnosis was made.) Maria’s waiting room greets her with her favorite song, and a digital photo of her family is hanging on the wall. When the operating room is ready, the procedure is carried out by a surgeon in Chicago – who specializes in appendectomies for patients around the world – with the help of an IoT-enabled surgical robot. His speech is translated automatically to the local surgical assistant. An hour later Maria is back in “her” room. While Maria is sedated the digital photo of her family comes to life – on the screen by her bedside her family is there, waiting for her.

How 5G makes this possible

Many of the technologies in this example are already in development. It is possible today to feel at a distance, as the doctor’s gloves did. 5G will enhance the precision, and bring the cost down dramatically. Remote surgeries are already taking place, but again, the cost is significant. 5G will make remote surgery as routine as making a phone call. But perhaps the most exciting area of research is to be found in the synergy of 5G and AI. After all, AI thrives on data, and 5G is, at its essence, a way of transmitting vast amounts of data at light speed (literally). If anything, the use cases described above are conservative. Perhaps in the future personal home-care devices will become so ubiquitous that emergencies such as Maria’s will simply be prevented. We’re entering an era of 5G-driven connected medicine that will fundamentally change healthcare.

But what brings me the most hope for the future is access. Access by the world’s most in need, to the specialists best able to provide care. Access by doctors to each other’s research and assistance. Access to donor lists, medicines and equipment. And access to loved ones at a moment’s notice. 5G is bringing more than a new era of medicine. It’s bringing all of us closer.

Capgemini works on the forefront of 5G and connected health technologies. In fact, together with Verizon and additional technology leaders we’ve recently opened a connected healthcare technology center in Kent, UK, showcasing some of the incredible advances in 5G-enabled healthcare being developed. You can read more about it here. To learn how you can be a part of the new world of 5G-enabled healthcare, contact me below.

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