With all the rapid technological shifts taking place currently, such as the rise of voice assistants, virtual reality, AI and countless others, there is one massive technological shift about to take place that may have a much larger impact on the health space than any others: 5G.
It is safe to assume that about 99% of people reading this POV currently have 4G LTE service on their mobile phone. The current 4th generation (4G) of cellular communication threw open the bandwidth gates to enable us to stream high quality video, audio and media-rich websites to our phones. In 2016 internet traffic from mobile devices surpassed desktop traffic. 5G is yet another exponential jump in bandwidth and speed.
The graphic below gives an example of just how big the jump in download speeds will be with 5G – roughly 20x what we have today:
So how exactly will this benefit healthcare?
To say the growth over the past few years for telehealth has been meteoric is an understatement. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Telemedicine and Telehealth use has grown 261% from 2015-2017. Kaiser Permanente last year had more virtual transactions than in person for the first time. Market Research Future predicts telemedicine will have a compound growth rate of 16.5% between now and 2023.
Telemedicine requires a real-time, steady, high speed connection to handle the video sessions and real time monitoring. Once 5G is commonplace, this will be easily done across a 5G network on a typical smartphone. This is especially beneficial to users in more rural areas where the closest hospital or clinical is miles away. Companies like Tyto, which offer smartphone devices that can assess health, could be literal life savers to people in these remote areas.
2. Real-Time Patient Monitoring
Wearables have been popular for years, but with the new advances in monitoring available, such as the EKG feature in Apple’s current watch, users have taken a much larger interest in their own personal health – way beyond step counters.
According to Anthem, over 70 million people in the US use wearable health monitors. This goes beyond activity trackers and includes pacemakers and insulin pumps which can send vital health data to HCPs. In fact, 86% of doctors say wearables increase patient engagement with their own health.
With 5G bandwidth and network speeds, real time monitoring with some of the more advanced wearables is much more feasible and can provide vital information to doctors at the most urgent times of need.
3. Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) has been increasing in popularity due to the lower cost of access thanks to devices like Google Cardboard and the many products that leverage smart phones as the screen and more recently Oculus Go. Yet for true VR experiences, users often need high end head gear with a wired connection to a desktop computer.
With 5G and the bandwidth it provides, a lot of these processor heavy tasks can be offloaded and transferred wirelessly. According to a report from ABI Research, 5G will see “a 10x improvement in throughput, a 10x decrease in latency, a 100x improvement in traffic capacity, and a 100x improvement in network efficiency.” This will help to solve a lot of the crippling issues VR currently has.
4. Medical Imaging
With 5G speeds surpassing current broad band speeds by several multiples, it will be vital for hospitals and health practices to utilize 5G networking capabilities to their existing networks. Large image files such as MRIs need to be sent out to specialists for review. The Austin Cancer Center uses a PET scanner which generates extremely large files — up to 1 gigabyte of information per patient per study. This data has to be transferred efficiently and reliably across their network. According to their CIO Jason Lindgren, “We used to have to send the files after hours. Now as soon as the patient leaves the scanner, the study is already on its way. It’s beneficial to doctors because they can get the results that they need quicker.”
“We strongly believe 5G is a game-changing technology that when fully implemented will help us support better hospital operations as well as provide the highest quality patient and staff experience,” said Dr. Shafiq Rab, senior vice president and chief information officer at Rush hospital in Chicago.
5. New Ad formats
Before the current 4G networks, online ads were typically a very poor user experience and often included very low-resolution banners. With the current 4G networks, advertisers can leverage rich media, video, programmatic buys and unique ad formats to capture a user’s attention. With increased network speed and bandwidth, ad load times will be exponentially quicker allowing for much more immersive and screen-free experiences for consumers. With the ability to process more data much quicker, ad experiences can be tailored in real time to a user’s preferences. Advertisers will be able to personalize their messaging to any device or screen, with the right message at the right time.
This example from Digiday is particularly interesting: “Imagine hopping in an autonomous vehicle and calling up Amazon Alexa to prep for dinner. A holographic display appears on your dashboard and directs you through the steps of a recipe, based on your diet preferences and meal history, as you drive to Whole Foods to pick up the ingredients, which are already being assembled robotically.”
5G networks are closer than we think. The recent Verizon launch in Chicago of their 5G network, while not as smooth as they would have liked, provided the proof of concept is there. This next generation of cellular technology is going to transform our lives, healthcare and advertising in ways we cannot even imagine yet.
Digital channels such as voice assistants, VR, telemedicine and 4k video will no longer be hindered by slow bandwidth. Marketers need to start to plan for these emerging channels as they will soon be far from emerging and more of the standard practice. Just as high definition streaming video on mobile devices was unheard of less than 10 years ago, this next generation of cellular technology will usher in yet another seismic shift in the way brands messages are delivered and consumed. Brands should already be creating video in the highest resolution possible and not consider themselves tied to existing web-standard lower resolution. With pharma and healthcare specifically, there are often lengthy periods of time for legal review – especially with a newer technology. This time needs to be accounted for to fend off any further delays. Plan now so you are not playing catch up later.