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Transforming emergency medical services using 5G

Mary Beth Hall, Director of Wireless Strategy and Marketing at Panasonic.
(Image credit: Future)

5G will play a significant role in transforming the capabilities of first responders by giving them access to advanced technologies and communication tools more effectively, more efficiently and in real time.  

When looking toward the future of a 5G-enabled emergency medical service (EMS) force, it’s important to consider the current status of the 5G rollout from a technology perspective before understanding the use cases 5G will enable. With a solid grasp of 5G’s capabilities and critical evaluation of the ways in which 5G can affect positive change, EMS teams will be able to better allocate their budgets to prepare for this next wave of connectivity. 

The status of the 5G rollout

The enterprise and consumer worlds have been talking about the impact of 5G for a while, especially since the 3GPP’s global standards for 5G came out in 2017. Most recently, carriers have been prioritizing their 5G deployments with different spectrum allocations, mmWave and Sub6, focusing mainly on urban markets. Since every carrier is at a different stage in their deployment – with some covering more than 100 cities – there is still time for the public sector, and EMS teams in particular, to solidify their 5G strategies. 

Many EMS teams are starting to explore the potential of 5G and it’s likely that the rollout among EMS providers  in the US will grow now that the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) has announced it will support 5G connectivity. The network has already deployed 5G in 38 cities and experts are saying that first responder teams will primarily notice the increased speeds in comparison to 4G LTE. As applications develop over time, EMS teams will soon see the benefits of the ultra-low latency and high bandwidth. 

"5G’s strong encryption rate will allow first responders to more securely and effectively leverage some of the industry’s trending advanced technologies."

Mary Beth Hall, Panasonic.

At Panasonic, we partner with all major carriers, including AT&T’s FirstNet and Verizon’s Frontline dedicated first responder networks, to ensure that we provide EMS customers with the right solutions. With speeds 10x faster than 4G, reduced latency by up to 90% and increased capacity for uploading and downloading data in seconds, 5G will significantly transform the efficiency of daily workflows. Further, 5G’s strong encryption rate will allow first responders to more securely and effectively leverage some of the industry’s trending advanced technologies from drones and the Internet of Things (IoT) to Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). 5G’s ability to truly unlock and maximize the potential of such technology, as EMS teams strive to stay connected to communities in near real-time, is an exciting prospect.

5G’s potential to transform remote patient care  

Regardless of how you view 5G, it’s important that EMS teams consider the impact of the technology from a solutions perspective, and take a holistic view of the use cases that will help them best serve their communities. This extends to broadening the impact of technologies already being used in the industry – such as video – to serve a greater purpose when it comes to not only connecting paramedics and front line workers with hospital staff, but also bringing greater situational awareness through communication, visibility and monitoring. 

5G will transform the capabilities of the connected ambulance, a concept that has emerged in recent years as a way to streamline communication between paramedics and ER staff. Time is of the essence when it comes to servicing patients, so any vitals or patient data they are able to collect while in route to the hospital could be crucial insight for ER doctors to leverage. With the right 5G-enabled mobile devices and IoT wearables, EMS teams can efficiently collect this data and transmit it quickly and securely to the hospital, so doctors and nurses can better prepare to service the patient. Further, IoT solutions, like Biotricity’s remote patient monitoring platform developed in collaboration with Verizon’s 5G First Responder Lab, can help doctors and paramedics monitor vitals remotely to detect issues before they arise, leading to more timely patient care.

Video is already a critical component of the connected ambulance, but 5G will significantly enhance streaming capabilities to boost EMS providers’ situational awareness and communication with the ER. At Panasonic, we work with the Houston Fire Department’s ETHAN Project, which aims to conserve the city’s resources by reducing the number of ambulance trips and ER visits for low-acuity patients. The city’s fire department is often the first to arrive on-site, so they leverage one of Panasonic’s rugged tablets to access patient records and hold video conferences between the patient and ER doctor, as necessary. 4G LTE has already introduced first responder teams to the power of real-time video conferencing, but 5G will enhance that video quality and streaming speeds to boost real-time communication even further. Specifically, the level of intelligent video 5G can enable will provide EMS teams with real-time visuals of accidents unfolding to help them prepare for emergencies in advance.

"This combination of 5G-enabled technology empowered the emergency care team to deliver efficient care from the field."

Mary Beth Hall, Panasonic.

5G-powered augmented and virtual reality applications can work alongside these video capabilities to provide real-time medical support and assistance to EMS teams. Through augmented reality, doctors can walk paramedics through an incident to make sure they offer the best level of patient care. For example, in Birmingham, UK a clinician was recently able to perform a procedure remotely by viewing the patient through zero-latency camera footage and leveraging a VR headset and joystick to guide the paramedic through the procedure with haptic glove technology. This combination of 5G-enabled technology empowered the emergency care team to deliver efficient care from the field with the same level of oversight the patient would have received if present in the hospital.

Outside of the ambulance, the use of 5G-enabled drones will help EMS teams supervise arenas and large venues during sporting events and concerts. Specifically, drones have the potential to support and conduct real-time temperature checks to monitor for any symptoms among crowds entering a stadium. Further, drones can capture real-time, close-up video of a scene if a player becomes injured and requires immediate care, for instance. The ability to view this real-time footage will enhance first responders’ situational awareness, so they can support the individual quickly and efficiently. 

Many cities, like New York City, have combined their EMS and fire response teams, so 5G will play a key role in powering the real-time communication and collaboration necessary between both entities. Most of the 5G-enabled solutions that will support EMS teams have the power to streamline work for fire departments as well. 5G’s ability to power Sidelink communications in which devices communicate without relaying their data via the network will be critical in powering real-time communication between fire and EMS teams. 5G will also help with data transmission to the command center, so dispatchers can help coordinate response when visibility on the ground is low. 

From powering the connected ambulance to supporting first responders’ situational awareness, 5G will play a key role in the future of emergency response.

Preparing for 5G 

Given that 5G will enable so many different technology applications for EMS providers, preparing for its deployment will require teams to consider how they can streamline their current workflows. Since everyone’s wireless conditions are different, connectivity needs should align with the following key criteria: compatibility, battery life requirements, cost, timing and environment (indoors vs. outdoors). 5G-enabled devices will be well-protected from a security perspective with better encryption and authentication, so teams won’t have to place too much focus on overcoming cybersecurity hurdles. Ultimately, selecting the right technology partner is crucial to make sure EMS teams deploy the best solutions now and in the future based on their needs, budgets and the industry landscape. 

"Once EMS providers plan out these 5G use cases, they should begin taking advantage of 5G network capabilities."

Mary Beth Hall, Panasonic.

Once EMS providers plan out these 5G use cases, they should begin taking advantage of 5G network capabilities. By 2025, it’s estimated that 40% of all mobile connections will have 5G access and the use of 4G LTE will be up to 59%. Further, by 2022, data use will grow so exponentially that 5G will be critical to support the increased strain on 4G. Procurement and vendor management leaders for EMS providers should work closely with carriers to understand the terms of current and planned coverage and determine the details around corporate plan structures to ensure a plan that’s customized to their unique objectives.

While 5G may seem like an end point for companies and the public sector to achieve, it is not a final destination because technology will always evolve and new applications will emerge. Therefore, it is critical that EMS providers establish clear goals from the beginning and partner with the right organizations to ensure that they stay up-to-date on the latest developments.

The future of connected EMS care

Given the critical and fast-paced nature of emergency medical services, it is crucial that teams take advantage of the latest technology applications available. While 4G LTE has introduced the industry to many new concepts like video conferencing, 5G will have the ability to enhance these use cases and open opportunities to leverage new solutions. 

As long as EMS providers have a solid understanding of the use cases made possible by 5G and allocate financial resources accordingly, they will be able to give paramedics greater situational awareness and remote support, transforming the level of care they deliver to their communities. 

Mary Beth Hall

Mary Beth Hall is Director of Wireless Strategy and Marketing at Panasonic. Hall is a marketing leader specializing in emerging technology, with a background in positioning brands and building new markets. With an entrepreneurial mindset, Hall is adept in identifying trends, opportunities, and building a vision to mobilize teams to execute.