Even before the pandemic occurred, it was estimated that digitised healthcare services such as telehealth — the practice of consultations between patient and medical provider by remote electronic format — will grow by 38 percent to a US$22 billion market in Asia Pacific by 2025.
In the wake of COVID-19, the world has witnessed the ‘proof of concept’ for how 5G and broadband connectivity can positively impact the healthcare industry, at scale. Virtual visits and remote patient monitoring are now becoming the norm in countries like China, Australia, Singapore and Japan.
Even in post-pandemic times, there is reason to believe that this trajectory will persist as a reflection of wider societal trends, tied to the rise of remote working, education and other parts of daily life.
Connectivity at the core of digital healthcare
Apart from the almost-universal image of a videoconference consultation between patient and doctor or communication between doctors who are physically apart, telehealth in general also includes healthcare services such as remote patient monitoring or movement of patient data using technologies.
Within the hospital, the use of Internet of Things (IoT) is helping the facility to speed up healthcare delivery and make services more efficient. For instance, from registration of patients to assigning wards and beds are all managed through a IoT-based healthcare management system.
Healthcare facilities large and small will need effective wireless coverage
The use of IoT is also helping hospitals to better allocate resources by monitoring visitors’ movements. For example, automated entry is granted to the visitors within seconds by capturing their data via an app, and the time they spent within the compound and areas they have been to are automatically tracked in the visitor management system.
When we look at these automation and digital applications, there is a need for high-bandwidth, low-latency network connectivity, both within the healthcare organisation and for remote healthcare.
This is particularly true for supporting real-time electronic consultations. Offerings like remote patient monitoring which is considered a ‘nice to have’ during the pandemic is becoming an expectation of healthcare providers, hence, many are accelerating existing plans to digitise existing network infrastructure.
In fact, IDC reported that in just over two months in the past year, healthcare providers worldwide had spent nearly two years’ worth of planned digital transformation investments to improve their networks.
Every network technology that is currently available, will be involved in expanding telehealth services at some point.
Shaping the future network
Building a future-ready wired and wireless network will require a converged infrastructure that simultaneously simplifies the architecture (by flattening more services on the IT network) and expands its applications (by providing a scalable platform that can evolve to support greater network density). Clearly, the undertaking involves a lot of interconnected and interdependent pieces.
Wi-Fi technology will be key in expanding telehealth services as it powers the front line of the user experience - for patients, staff, and visitors alike.
Healthcare facilities large and small will need effective wireless coverage. For mid to bigger facilities, access points (APs) and associated solutions such as network switches should also be scalable and easy to configure, allowing the healthcare organization to easily expand network coverage and capabilities when demanded by the business. Such a model of scalability provides medical providers with the reliability and performance necessary for the delivery of top-quality digital healthcare services.
Indoor cellular connectivity is also critical for healthcare staff communications and other related applications. However, outdoor networks often cannot penetrate modern buildings with consistency, making an indoor small cell or distributed antenna system (DAS) a necessary part of a healthcare provider’s network.
To ensure optimal, seamless digital experiences, an all-digital DAS solution is needed to provide comprehensive coverage over conventional IT cabling — including support for 5G bands that can deliver ultra-low latency needed by telehealth applications.
Structured Cabling is also key
None of the above however, would be possible without structured cabling. Structured cabling, the copper and fiber-optic cabling that carries all network traffic, is the foundation of all wired and wireless network applications.
More specifically, power over Ethernet (PoE) and powered fiber cabling enable connection of IoT devices and applications across the facility, in addition to providing efficient connectivity for all telehealth services.
Proving to be an enormous success without compromising quality of care for patients, changes powered by digital connectivity will likely continue, and healthcare providers should continue prioritising the shift towards telehealth services and also strategic investments in the network infrastructure that drives them.
Telehealth technologies will require massive amounts of bandwidth moving forward, to ensure low latency, superlative reliability and dependable resiliency for services that can directly impact a person’s health. To deliver against these needs, a high-performance and future-ready network infrastructure would be the critical link that underpins exceptional delivery of digital healthcare.
Sanjiv Verma is Vice President, Ruckus Networks, Asia Pacific, CommScope