Thailand has been ranked first among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and sixth globally for medical tourism, making this industry a significant contributor to Thailand’s economy and serving more than 1.1 million tourists annually. The local regulator has further predicted that 5G and the smart healthcare sector will generate a new market space for the economy.
With the government positioning the country as a digital hub for ASEAN, Thailand was first in ASEAN to deploy 5G commercially at large scale and has prioritized 5G, recognizing it as an important engine to support the “Thailand 4.0” digital transformation initiative. In addition to operators launching consumer 5G services, the country has been very active exploring opportunities for 5G industrial applications.
Already, Thailand has launched a “Digital Healthcare” roadmap aimed at alleviating the imbalance of medical resources by introducing remote monitoring and diagnosis based on big data analysis. As a result, hospitals have effectively used 5G technologies for pandemic control, improving treatment efficiency, minimizing direct human contact, and ensuring healthcare personnel safety.
At CommunicAsia 2020, Bangkok’s Siriraj Hospital was acknowledged for the “Most Innovative 5G Applications in Asia Pacific,” recognizing its successful practices in fighting the pandemic using 5G. This year, Siriraj Hospital, in cooperation with Mahidol University, highlighted the importance of 5G, cloud, and big data in pandemic control at Mobile World Congress Shanghai in February.
5G Supports Faster Diagnoses
On March 26th, 2020, Thailand declared a “national emergency” due to the surge in COVID-19 infections, leading the government and hospitals to raise their broadband requirements immediately with the support of telecom operators and Huawei. Within three days, a 5G network and an automatic diagnosis solution were deployed and commissioned at Siriraj Hospital and Ramathibodi Hospital.
5G, cloud computing, and automation technologies help doctors analyze computerized tomography (CT) quantification results of infected cases with high precision. 5G’s high-speed connectivity, high reliability, and low latency increase the transfer efficiency of CT scans by as much as four times compared to previous Wi-Fi solutions. Simultaneously, medical system response time, patient monitoring, data collection, remote collaboration, and resource allocation decreased diagnosis time from 12 minutes to two minutes, improving the detection of new cases and safeguarding hospital medical staff.
5G Unmanned Vehicles Reduce Frontline Healthcare Contact and Infection Risks
The self-driving white bus at Siriraj Hospital is unmistakable with its 5G logo, commuting around the hospital’s courtyard and between wards, pharmacy units, and buildings to transport medicine and medical supplies. This Unmanned Vehicle (UV) from China, equipped with multiple high-definition cameras, uses a 5G high-speed connection to transmit HD video to a command center and low latency to enable fine control of the vehicle in a safe and secure manner.
Prof. Dr. Prasit Watanapa, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Mahidol University, Siriraj Hospital, said “This multi-functional 5G UV effectively reduces the risk of infection for medical personnel and prevents staff from being exposed to high-risk environments.” He added that it “also relieves the strained frontline workforce during the outbreak.”
5G Ambulance Improves Emergency Medical Services
The mortality rate for emergency patients in Thailand is around 8%. With some of the highest traffic congestion in the world, local hospitals need to establish a real-time digital life rescue channel to reduce emergency mortality. As a result, Bangkok’s Nopparat Rajathanee Hospital, which treats close to 3,000 patients a day, launched its 5G smart ambulance, equipped with 5G gateway, High Definition (HD) cameras, and Augmented Reality (AR) glasses for real-time video communication with medical devices in the hospital’s Emergency Room (ER). Ambulance staff can use video communication with ER doctors when patients are in critical condition and conduct remote consultation and profiling before arriving at the hospital. Mobile CT scans and ultrasound devices also make use of the 5G high-speed connectivity to transmit large files to the hospital in real-time to reduce preparation time.
Thailand 5G Healthcare Application Vision Planning
Innovative technologies are rewriting the rules of healthcare by providing high-speed connectivity, low latency, and high reliability.
The Thailand 5G Committee has allocated funds for smart healthcare projects and formulated a long-term plan for 5G healthcare applications that estimates 5G healthcare will cover at least 500 hospitals in villages by the year 2022 and serving 300,000 people. These facilities will be expanded to 7,800 community hospitals by 2027.
With the success of 5G use cases at Siriraj hospital, more hospitals are introducing 5G technologies and smart Healthcare applications. Phyathai Sriracha Hospital, a subsidiary of Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS), launched 5G telemedicine services with Huawei at Bangsaen 21 Marathon, providing medical facilities for emergency services.
Local companies working with foreign companies such as Neolix, for unmanned vehicles, and Huiying, for automated assistant diagnosis and HiLeia AR glasses, have actively participated in building a smart healthcare ecosystem. In 2020, Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES), Digital Economy Promotion Agency (DEPA), and Huawei opened Thailand’s 5G Ecosystem Innovation Center (5G EIC), with the aim of accelerating 5G innovation through ecosystem collaboration. The center will serve as a sandbox for the development of digital innovations for 5G applications and services across various industries in Thailand.
With the rapid demand in healthcare and other vertical industries, ICT technologies will better serve the people of Thailand, accelerate industry digital transformation including economic recovery from the pandemic, and provide a foundation to realize Thailand 4.0.
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