Telemedicine: Contrary to popular belief, telemedicine is not a current concept; it is already widely used in the world with traditional medicine, expanding the monitoring between doctor and patient and combining the facilities for the rapid exchange of information. And it promises to expand even further as the 5G advances, since the new network, with high speed, is increasingly expanding access to information.
The implementation of fifth generation connections increases access to the internet due to several factors. The main one is that, with the auction of the National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel) distributing the 5G operating frequency bands to the telephone operators, there will be an obligation to expand 3G and 4G as well. This means that more regions of Brazil will be contemplated with increasingly stable and fast connections, democratizing the information and the resources necessary to have access to it.
Focusing on the present, this will all impact the population in order to ensure that video calls – which are booming, especially in the quarantine period – become even more popular, facilitating access for people with mobility problems to routine consultations, for example. There is also the question of saving time, as there is no longer any need to worry about commuting. The tendency is that, even, the waiting time to be seen in a medical consultation decreases dramatically.
In addition, the connectivity that 5G provides, with millions of devices connected at the same time per square kilometer, the high network speed and the very low latency are capable of spreading new techniques that have been tested all over the world, such as tele-surgeries.
Despite seeming to be possible only in the distant future, telecommunications break geographic barriers, allowing for more democratized medical care. Teladoc believes, for example, that, just as smartphones have joined online and offline, telemedicine will be recognized as medicine, either in person or at a distance.
Accelerated advancement due to coronavirus
During the coronavirus pandemic, telemedicine had a great advance, and the technology that was gradually implemented, according to the needs of the patient or the case, became widely used. According to the director of medicine at Teladoc, Dr. Caio Seixas Soares, society is experiencing a moment of acceptance, greater understanding and understanding of what this novelty represents.
The logic of attendance by teleconsultation is as follows: the patient makes an appointment with a doctor and receives a link that must be accessed at the agreed time for the consultation. So, instead of spending time going to an office, it is possible to be attended directly from the home room, by computer, tablet or smartphone. It is important that the connection is stable and fast, so that there are no unforeseen events such as network outages and interruptions in the video or voice.
“The pandemic accelerated the use of telemedicine, and doctors and patients started to resort to this type of assistance, positively transforming the implementation of new technologies (…). It is a method that is here to stay and to benefit patients and professionals more safely and comfortably ”, explains the specialist.
According to Teladoc, only 25% of the population has a private health plan, which causes congestion in the Unified Health System (SUS), which already suffers from poor management and lack of investments. For this reason, although telemedicine does not replace a traditional consultation, it is a method that has been very well accepted because it solves some of the problems that Brazil faces in relation to public health, such as overcrowding in hospitals and long waiting lines for care.
The estimate is that, by providing alternatives for face-to-face consultation to take place at a distance, telemedicine solves about 95% of health problems and complaints. “Telemedicine has been in place for years and has accelerated recognition and approval by the Medical Council due to the covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic accelerated the need for digital transformation in all markets, and health was no different ”, defends Dr. Soares.
Relationship between connectivity and medicine
According to Anatel, about 98.2% of Brazilians have access to mobile internet. While 3G coverage is present in 5,301 cities (where 99.3% of the Brazilian population lives), 4,122 municipalities already have access to 4G (where 94.4% of the population lives). The data are from 2018 and were released by the Brazilian Telecommunications Association (Telebrasil).
This means that the absolute majority of citizens are prepared to use telemedicine, since 58% of Brazilians access the internet exclusively by cell phone, according to a survey by TIC Domicilias carried out in 2019. The smartphone is one of the tools that are most helping in the expansion of telemedicine, as it is cheaper and more feasible than using a computer to access consultations.
Dr. Soares says that the biggest difficulties in implementing telemedicine refer to the feeling of newness, since many doctors and patients need to adapt to the new resources. One of the obstacles is to make everyone understand that, even if it is a video call, the behavior must be the same as that of a face-to-face consultation. “Often, because both are doing the home consultation, it may appear to be a more informal moment, but in fact it is a medical consultation as if it were in person, only done through a screen. That is why it requires the same levels of preparation, attention, focus, proper clothing, favorable environment and stable internet connection on both sides, ”he explains.
When asked about the procedures that are performed when a patient or doctor suffers from connection problems, Dr. Soares says that attitudes vary according to the case. One possibility is for the consultation to be rescheduled or continued over the phone, for example. “Our goal is to be inclusive even in these cases”, he defends.
Importance of democratization of technologies
Several plans for expansion and implementation of technologies should take place in Brazil, in order to contemplate the entire population with the services offered. An example is the auction for 5G frequencies, which requires operators to expand 3G and 4G, in addition to new technology.
In the world, 5G networks are already revolutionizing everyday technologies, bringing new possibilities for evolution and improving existing functionalities. Medicine is just one example, and it is possible to mention the automobile industry, which is studying studies on autonomous systems in cars, and urban safety, with the increasing implementation of smart cities.
In Brazil, several speed tests are already being carried out. Tim, in April 2021, managed to reach 1.8 Gbps on the 5G mobile connection, in a strong indication that, in 2022, which is the year foreseen for the fifth generation to be available in the country, the speeds are even more impressive. .
Anatel’s auction, which should take place in the first half of 2021, will sell the frequency bands so that operators can make the operation of 5G possible. The effort for the execution to be fast is general, with several federal government portfolios, such as the Federal Audit Court (TCU), and private companies joining efforts.
The difference between the waves used by 5G networks is that they operate at a higher frequency, which allows for faster browsing speeds on smartphones and mobile devices and causes the waves to travel shorter distances, requiring more transmitting antennas than it was needed on 3G and 4G.
The 5G transmission uses radio waves, which are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Although human beings are surrounded by this type of radiation, whether due to TV signals or other technologies, it is not harmful to health because it is not ionizing, so it does not have enough energy to separate DNA and cause damage to human body cells.
Motorola, in addition to having the largest range of 5G smartphones in the Brazilian market, such as the Moto G 5G and Motorola Edge, included, in March 2021, two indigenous languages threatened with extinction in the configurations of the Moto G handsets: nheengatu, predominant in the Alto do Rio Negro basin, and kaingang, widespread in the South and Southeast regions. The initiative was a partnership between the brand and the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), in which more than 20,000 expressions, phrases, commands, guidance instructions and date and time formats were adapted, according to the A Crítica website.
Advances like these allow all projects and areas in growth and development because of 5G to gain more strength, reaching as many people as possible and ensuring access to medical consultations over long distances, such as in rural districts and indigenous villages.
Benefits of telemedicine
Telemedicine, which was seen as a solution to problems of the future, is now seen as an immediate measure to continue bringing health to people more safely. The current situation with the coronavirus also served to increase investments in the sector. According to Guilherme Hummel, scientific coordinator of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), telemedicine is expected to generate around US $ 7.5 billion in Brazil over the next 5 years.
Dr. Soares explains that there is an increasing number of doctors, nurses and nutritionists using this solution, which also attracts more patients. It is a worldwide trend that is not limited to the pandemic, since it is possible to have all the necessary information and care without having to leave the house.
Telemedicine and 5G
Although remote consultations do not need 5G networks to function, there are some technological advances that will only be possible thanks to the fifth generation. The higher connection speed provides much more stable calls and greater coverage, increasing the quality of the sound and image and facilitating the sending of documents such as medical prescriptions, exams and reports.
An example is the tele-surgeries, already mentioned, which are operations and processes being carried out on people miles away by means of robots. According to Dr. Soares, “distance surgeries on people miles away are already a reality in some countries. The doctor controls a robot surgeon located in a hospital in a different part of the country and is able to perform the surgery ”.
This is possible because of the low latency afforded by 5G networks, which guarantees an extremely low response time. The movements made by the doctor are performed by the robot at exactly the same time, and this is essential in such a delicate procedure.
Technologies related to cloud storage are also advancing. Corporate platforms, for example, provide integration between hospitals, healthcare systems and patients. Soares explains that “from this solution, hospitals can offer healthcare anywhere and anytime, connecting people, healthcare systems, healthcare information technology systems and third-party devices and software applications on a single platform ”.
In addition to telemedicine, 5G provides several technological advances that promise to revolutionize the market and offer more comfort and convenience to the population thanks to the new resources that have been implemented and developed. The connection between the most diverse devices in real time will revolutionize life as we know it today; from watching a movie, a series or a sports game to talking, going to the doctor or driving. The arrival of 5G represents a change in lifestyle from the moment we wake up, with routines programmed by smart appliances, until the time we go to sleep.