Guest Column | November 8, 2017

5G Healthcare: How To Ensure Data-Driven Care And Support

By David Nickelson, PsyD, JD, Director, Digital Strategy, Health and Behavior Change, Sapient Health

5G Subscribers Could Reach 100 Million By 2025: It’s Not To Early To Plan For Change

While recent debates have settled some key issues, the future of healthcare in the United States remains unclear, making it very hard to know precisely what tomorrow will bring. There are some certainties, however, already starting to shape what’s ahead for America’s healthcare. Among these, the need to address underserved populations and the emergence of a 5G network. As the next generation of mobile networks/wireless systems, 5G will transform healthcare capabilities, experiences and technologies and make it possible to reach populations that currently have insufficient access to care services.

The pace of 5G’s arrival is accelerating. Though still a few years from widespread adoption, the International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that 80 percent of companies will commit to hybrid cloud architectures by the end of 2017. Gartner predicts there will be more than 20 billion connected “things” by 2020. And with 5G, we’ll have at our fingertips the rapid, high-volume connectivity of cloud-based repositories, healthcare devices, remote sensors, wearables and real-time interactions, all rendering a tremendous amount of patient, medical and research data.

What should we do to ensure that all the data being captured, archived and analyzed also drives valuable, better healthcare and support – especially in our areas lacking adequate services today?

3 Pillars For Progress In A 5G World

Over time, we’ve learned that the keys to using technology to deliver care to underserved populations are most often simplicity and scale. For example, health technologies with the most traction in this space include:

  • SMS/Texting
  • Language/Communication Assistance
  • Portals/Kiosks
  • Telehealth
  • Self-Assessment and Care
  • Combined Medical/Social Services

The success of these technologies can help guide how we leverage 5G connectivity to improve care quality and delivery while reducing cost. Here are three areas with the potential to make – and in some cases already are making – a strong beginning for healthcare:

  1. Cognitive Computing (Machine Learning [ML] & Artificial Intelligence [AI])

Cognitive computing shows great promise in healthcare, providing a means for sorting and applying the trillions of data points generated by patients, providers, health systems and insurance companies to improve health, increase efficiency and reduce cost. While there are challenges with privacy and security that need to be addressed, the concept of a system that can take health statistics and research findings and compare them against an individual’s genetic makeup (such as in the NIH Precision Medicine Initiative’s “All of Us” Research Program), their medical records (heart disease risk, via Boston University’s Center for Information and Systems Engineering and a consortium of Boston hospitals) and their social/lifestyle graph (Journal of Medical Internet Research), is becoming increasingly possible. As our payment system continues to transition toward paying for value, systems that can learn, predict and intervene to keep people from getting sick will become even more important to both patients and providers.

  1. Behavior Change Support

The challenge is not knowing what behaviors to change; it’s knowing and delivering the most effective interventions using the most impactful tactics at the right time. At the population level, we understand broadly what interventions could have the most impact. What’s needed is a better connection between the effective interventions and the personality and motivations of the individual who is trying to change.

For example, Sara might respond best to text messaging supported by regular coaching to quit smoking; however, Robert does better using an app by himself. This trend will benefit greatly from the increasing application of ML and AI to existing data sets and actions in real time. We’ll begin to know which digital intervention or application to “prescribe” that will work best for a particular individual. 5G connectivity provides a way to better track and intervene at key moments, particularly in communities where there is little access or availability of healthcare services.

  1. Care Coordination

The health system, like many other industries, is significantly siloed, making transitions from one part of the system to another difficult and confusing. For example, a patient who is being discharged from the hospital often needs to have their medications transferred to a retail pharmacy, follow-up provider appointments scheduled, any required durable medical equipment purchased/rented/delivered, and all tertiary services scheduled, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy and home care.

In the case of the underserved, transportation to and from all of these scheduled appointments often presents a real barrier to recovery and adherence. Forward-thinking health systems are building integration layers between their EHRs, customer relationship management systems (CRMs), enterprise resource planning (ERPs) and other health information technology (HIT) systems that make it possible for all discharge orders to be entered and scheduled electronically. They also give patients and caregivers portals or apps that allow them to see, schedule and participate in post-discharge treatment transportation and care plans. This helps ensure patients get the support and follow up they need to get better and avoid returning to the hospital. Palmetto Health, for example, saw a 63 percent reduction in hospital admissions using a tech-enabled ambulatory care transitions team. High-speed connectivity can make coordination better, faster and cost-effective.

Opportunities Abound Within These Pillars

Developing a plan to further strengthen data integration and use in these three critical areas will propel progress in patient care and support, especially in areas currently receiving the least help. They provide a clear roadmap for healthcare investment in 5G capabilities, regardless of future policy debates or decisions.


As we begin to feel the effects of the emerging 5G healthcare network and benefit from it, staying on the cutting edge of advancements is essential. By focusing on technologies that can be applied to improve patient experience, increase quality and more efficiently provide care across both general and underserved populations, even the most risk adverse healthcare-focused firms can take advantage of opportunities to create value with data and 5G connectivity.


Today’s health IT leaders can drive transformation and new business models by helping ensure better data-driven healthcare and support. Investing wisely and incrementally could make your company part of the next wave of healthcare disruption.