Telemedicine with 5G could be a gamechanger for military health

Telehealth became an even bigger industry during COVID-19. Doctors were forces to think of creative ways to see patients as people were forced to stay home to avoid the spread of the virus.

However, as 5G is starting to roll out, telehealth may be breaking into a completely new plane. At Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) the Air Force is testing capabilities that could be the future of medicine.

“5G brings a whole new paradigm and architecture to the table. From what we’ve seen before even up through the current 5G  non-standalone that you see advertised on TV today,” Jody Little, executive program manager for 5G NextGen at JBSA, said during a Federal Insights discussion sponsored by Verizon. “Now you can bring large amounts of data forward or back to it and operate in the forward edge. You can virtualize these applications and get very ultra-low latency. And now you’re supporting lots of sensors. Whereas in, say, 4G, you could support maybe 100. Here, you can support 1000s.”

That means that doctors have the opportunity to monitor patients like never before. Doctors across the country can sit in on surgeries and experience them as if it were almost in-person by looking at multiple sensors and using virtual reality.

“If you think about advances gaming, and you think about 5G telemedical applications, you’ll be able to push those forwards so they can operate in real time, see the data, whether that’s a virtual reality application or augmented reality application and it’ll be in real time whether interacting with the patients,” Little said. “5G promises significant improvement in the ability for the Defense Department to support critical care at the point of care. What that means is that they’ll be able to provide more care in real time and bring more expertise to the table than they currently are.”

Doctors will be able to layer models on top of patients and be guided by experts from anywhere in the world.

Putting important information like medical sensors and personal information in the network creates new challenges for security.

Little said patient security is of utmost importance and DoD is going beyond traditional security measures to protect it.

“The international body that manages the 5G standards has some very good 5G security standards,” Little said. “From a DoD perspective, we need more and we need better in some cases. Our perspectives run from the user equipment all the way back to the cloud or from the cloud all the way up to the user equipment. The whole capability from end-to-end needs to be operate in a secure zero trust architecture.”

Little said it also takes some work on the part of users as well to ensure networks remain safe.

“What we’re going to have to see is the architecture, and the interfaces support better cybersecurity,” Little said. “We can’t allow things to happen that would cause malicious activities within the 5G network or the applications that are running. it’s really difficult to change the users’ habits. But, it has to start early and continue through and we see that all the time in training.”

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