Edge Computing gains momentum in Healthcare

AT&T Edge Computing
Sheila Zabeu -

July 17, 2023

Edge Computing employed specifically in the healthcare sector appears to be taking off. That’s the conclusion of a new report from AT&T, which also reveals that the main change from the 2022 study was the use of this type of technology in tele-emergency medical services and remote initial care for non-urgent cases. The reason behind this modification is to allow emergency personnel to make faster and more informed decisions, according to AT&T.

In healthcare, edge computing is applied in patients’ homes, in laboratories or in the field. With the generation and consumption of data closer to healthcare professionals, decisions are often made where healthcare is delivered, and care can be more personalised, almost in real time in many cases.

When it comes to edge computing use cases in healthcare, the AT&T report highlights that one of the most promising aspects is the potential of this class of technology to use real-time data to contribute to better patient care delivery. The two most notable use cases are hospital at home services and autonomous robots/drones. The home hospital concept is based on the application of remote sensors and videoconferencing systems, for example, which allow care to be provided at home, freeing up beds in hospitals. Robots and drones, on the other hand, can perform tasks such as disinfecting rooms and operating theatres and delivering supplies within hospital environments.

Source: AT&T

Regarding endpoints, portable devices are the first choice, with 53% of responses. In addition, 74% of respondents use 4G/LTE cellular networks as their edge connectivity system. As a security solution, 52% are using a combined function of cybersecurity and on-premise networks. The main perceived threat in this context is insiders.

Challenges and investments

As in any other area, the health segment faces a major challenge associated with edge computing: security. Data manipulated at the edge is vulnerable, and can even involve the theft or physical loss of devices. AT&T cites the example of data collected at the bedside or via robots that perform surgeries thousands of kilometres away from the surgeon. In this case and in many others, there are many risks of data breach. Hence the need for dynamic cybersecurity systems.

Another challenge has to do with the collaboration needed between all the links involved in edge computing solutions for healthcare. This ecosystem ranges from business leaders and IT and development professionals, to legal and compliance departments that need to be alert to regulatory and privacy issues in healthcare.

The AT&T report reveals that consultant involvement has been a priority for those embarking on edge computing projects. The majority of respondents (64%) rely on external experts for planning, and 71% seek guidance from external consultants during production. Seeking external advice can make processes more agile, save time and reduce costs.

When examining edge computing investments in healthcare, the adage “follow the money” also holds true. The study reveals that the allocation of resources in strategy, planning, network infrastructure, applications and security that organisations intend to make in three years is almost equally distributed among these areas. The following chart illustrates the allocation of investments across five key use cases.

AT&T’s recommendation for healthcare organisations looking to invest in edge computing is to follow a few basic steps: (1) Create a profile outlining own capabilities and limitations; (2) Develop an investment strategy; (3) Enhance compliance tools; (4) Align resources with emerging priorities; and (5) Build resilience and prepare to deliver dynamic responses.

Finally, the report emphasises that successful edge computing projects require a holistic approach encompassing collaboration, compliance, resilience and adaptability. Considering these characteristics will enable better patient experiences, as well as increased operational efficiency and cost effectiveness even in a rapidly evolving landscape.

Edge computing in the healthcare sector is expected to be a $12.9bn industry by 2028, up from $4.1bn in 2022, representing a compound annual growth rate of 26.1% over this forecast period, according to ResearchAndMarkets. The increased uptake worldwide by healthcare organisations is due to benefits such as low latency, traffic distribution, improved reliability and reduced costs, the report points out.