Operators and equipment vendors alike have been exploring use cases for 5G in the healthcare sector for several years now. But in Thailand, 5G is already playing a key role in creating Siriraj 5G Smart Hospital, which aims to be the future of healthcare in the ASEAN region.
The Siriraj 5G Smart Hospital project officially launched in December 2021, but has been in development since mid-2020 in conjunction with Huawei Technologies (Thailand) and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). The project is also under the guidance of the government’s Thailand 4.0 initiative to digitally transform the country, one objective of which is “high value healthcare”.
Specifically, that means: creating value from health products and services; building medical and public health knowledge; creating fair access health services and; developing a health emergency management system to prepare for health threats.
Speaking at Huawei’s ‘Lighting Up the Future’ summit on Day 0 of MWC 2022 in Barcelona, Prof. Dr. Prasit Watanapa MD, dean of the Faculty of Medicine for Siriraj Hospital at Mahidol University, walked audience members through the project, which is designed to address key pain points in Thailand’s healthcare system that a 5G smart hospital should solve to have any added value.
For a start, the first aid mortality rate is quite high – one-third of critically ill patients die in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Medical resources are unevenly distributed – this is especially true in rural areas, where there are less than two doctors for every 10,000 people. The number of seriously ill patients is huge and professional doctors are in short supply. And new technology is needed for medical training and inventory management.
In general, the concept of the smart hospital of the future involves changing the healthcare paradigm from a provider-centric model – where treatment is episodic, takes place in hospitals and is often uncomfortable and invasive – to a patient-centric model where the focus is on preventative lifetime care and keeping citizens healthy, while also enabling a more decentralized, community-based approach.
Dr Watanapa explained that there are several technology trends already enabling this paradigm shift, starting with digital transformation, which itself has been accelerated by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The 5G component of the smart hospital enables mobile and quality guarantee telemedicine from the ambulance ride to post-treatment care, he continued.
“Wearables facilitates collection of health data and healthcare analytics. Audio-visual communications technologies like 4K, ultra-wideband and 5G enable sharing of clear medical and remote and online consultation. Cloud computing makes information storage and sharing easier. Big data helps doctors and management make better decisions. And AI improves the speed, efficiency and precision of medical imaging,” he said. “So new ICT technologies are making healthcare more intelligent, convenient and efficient.”
For example, “5G-connected ambulances provide timely emergency treatment based on 5G HD cameras and AR glasses,” he explained. “In the hospital you have a smart ER, with 5G mobile trolleys making mobile ward rounds, and conducting consultation and examination. 5G also provides high-speed connectivity for use cases such as AI pathology, remote surgery instruction via real-time HD and AR displays. And post-hospital, we have 5G-connected remote consultation, which can be done at home or in a local community hospital.”
The Siriraj 5G Smart Hospital isn’t quite there yet – the smart hospital paradigm is not something you install overnight and launch fully realized. The Siriraj project will be rolled out over the next three years, implementing 5G, cloud and AI in various ways.
The first year of the project alone incorporates nine sub-projects, including 5G CPE and MEC installation, an 5G AI virtual NCD clinic, 5G unmanned vehicles for smart logistics, blockchain for electronic health records and central medical records, and 5G-powered AI for use cases such as pharmacy inventory optimization, diagnostic pathology, intelligent ER and intelligent EMS.
Dr Watanapa said that in a few years time, he expects the Siriraj 5G Smart Hospital project to serve as a blueprint for all smart hospitals in Thailand, and “will serve as a model for upgrading Thailand’s public health industry in the future.”