For this column let’s consider how IoT (Internet of Things) technologies and 5G will impact medicine and healthcare. Just for a moment I think it’s really important to imagine what our society will look like when we imagine real possibilities for technology beyond what we ever dreamed possible.

From teaching empathy to med students to enabling telemedicine and telesurgery, the impact of technologies like AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), AI (artificial intelligence), wearables, and robotics in medicine and healthcare are wide ranging and far reaching. With 5G, the possibilities seem even more endless. There are so many exciting applications of IoT technologies in the medical field.

If you think about it, medicine and healthcare is perhaps where we want innovation to happen most, because without our health, we can’t do the things we love.

5G is really going to impact the future of IoT-enabled medicine. Let’s consider remote monitoring. Over the years, we’ve talked a lot about how remote patient monitoring could help change the healthcare paradigm for the better. But remote monitoring and increasingly sophisticated imaging equipment can really take a toll on networks.

Slow network speeds aren’t saving any lives, that’s for sure, and any application in medicine and healthcare that relies on a wireless network can’t really be life-critical until networks are faster and more reliable.

Once we’re all using 5G, we’re going to see a lot of things come to fruition. Large imaging files that used to take a really long time to get from point a to point b will now send and deliver instantaneously. Telemedicine applications will flourish because, finally, they can.

Telehealth could save companies billions of dollars a year, and it could also greatly improve patients’ satisfaction with their care. It could also bring healthcare to more people in more places.

As we talked about in last week’s column, 5G is also going to enable new ways of leveraging AR and VR. In the medical field, this could mean helping to prepare medical students for their future careers.

I even remember reading about a virtual reality project that started out as a student’s master’s degree project here in Chicago at the University of Illinois at Chicago right here in my own backyard.

The project, called “We Are Alfred,” allowed medical students in their 20s to use virtual reality to experience what it was like to be an aging patient. VR puts the wearer into someone else’s shoes. You can be somewhere else, doing something you’re not physically doing. To a certain degree, you can even be someone else while you’re wearing that headset. It’s an incredible creative power, and in medicine, I think it’ll find so many applications to do good.

Another example could be giving cancer patients VR headsets to play immersive games or step into virtual worlds during treatments, so they’re relaxed and distracted. I can imagine this could be particularly helpful for children or, maybe, a woman in labor.

I can only imagine how many reading this wish they had this when they were giving birth; I know it would have come in very handy being the mother of three.

Augmented reality could also help physicians in training, just like it could help so many other professionals in training for a hands-on job of any kind. You may have heard of HoloAnatomy, an app for the HoloLens that helps medical students learn anatomy. The app allows wearers to see virtual organs and structures of the human body right in front of them.

It’s amazing tech, and we’re still at the beginning of this journey with AR and VR. The network speeds and low latency offered by 5G is just going to make these applications way more plausible than they were before. Low latency in mission-critical situations is so important. You can imagine why market segments like telesurgery are going to really start growing thanks to 5G networks.

If there’s one situation in which a tiny fraction of a second of lag is not okay, it’s in surgery.

Let’s just consider the future of surgery for a moment. We already know about robotic-assisted surgeries. The Da Vinci surgical system, for instance, performs minimally invasive surgeries with the help of a surgeon nearby who is manning the controls.

This is absolutely amazing, but the surgeon is in the room, controlling 100% of the robot’s movements. In the future, thanks to 5G networks, surgeons may be able to remotely perform surgeries.

Early this year, reports from China suggested a Chinese surgeon had performed the world’s first remote operation using 5G technology by operating on a lab animal. Chinese media also reported in March that a Chinese doctor performed the first human telesurgery over wireless 5G internet. Apparently, it was brain surgery, and the patient was 1,800 miles away from the surgeon.

If 5G does make telesurgery plausible, it could really revolutionize the industry. Patients wouldn’t have to travel to where the specialists are. This is just yet another way the IoT is digitizing skills.

We are not just talking about an Internet of Things anymore; we’re talking about an “Internet of skills.” With VR and 5G, there are going to so many opportunities for people to “be” wherever they’re needed.

With AR, knowledge and data are going to be right there when they’re needed to develop skills. Expertise will be able to transfer in realtime, no matter the location of the expertise-holder. The internet of skills is game-changing in medicine and beyond.

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