As leaders at the New York-based Accenture consulting firm state in their introduction on their website to the book The Future Home in the 5G Era: Next-Generation Strategies for Hyper-Connected Living, “As the global pandemic has demonstrated, your home has become a new digital hub as important as your mobile device. The Future Home in the 5G Era provides a look into the window of how consumer lives will change tomorrow and a roadmap for companies to make 5G hyper-connected living a reality when we need it most.”
What’s more, the Accenture leaders write, “It shows how the Future Home—enabled by 5G, cloud, security, AI [artificial intelligence], edge computing, eSIM and more—can provide consumers personalized services for remote-work from home, distance learning, healthcare, immersive entertainment and advanced aging care, while also yielding economic success for businesses.”
As they note, “The Future Home’s powerful services ecosystem will be a quantum leap from today’s fragmented smart home technology, effectively extending the boundaries of the home even beyond the traditional bounds of the physical, to ultimately make consumers feel ‘at home’ anywhere.”
And in one section of the book, “Constant health monitoring and maintenance” (beginning on page 48), the authors follow a fictional grandmother named YuPei—a member of an entire extended family whose lives they imagine in the connected home. Describing a typical day, they write, “After her monitored and assisted walk to the bathroom and the morning tooth brushing, a set of sensors in the sink analyses her discarded saliva for signs of overall health and any disease progression. This data is relayed to the local rehab centre for automated screening. In the meantime, the kitchen prepares breakfast from tailored diet components delivered each morning. A camera with video analytics tracks how much of each meal YuPei consumes. The system also leverages 5G and edge computing technology to spot in near real time any chewing or swallowing issues on her left side, which could signal another medical issue such as a second stroke. After breakfast, YuPei is reminded to take her high blood pressure medication and blood thinners, each from the smart pillbox that manages the amount, adherence or reduction of each medication, sending the information to the doctor, insurance company or pharmacy for a monthly discount incentive. When YuPei looks at the smart exercise mirror, the voice of a personal trainer takes her through a stroke recovery routine. The mirror shares results and data from the occupational therapy, physical therapy, and cognitive tests with a federated cloud that helps analyse progress and adjusts the training routines based on that progress. Once the exercises are over, the mirror turns into a screen for her personal family channel. YuPei sees a stream of pictures, messages, videos, and live streams from the Drone Parents’ home, mobile devices and autonomous vehicles – including her grandchildren’s phones.”
Recently, Jefferson Wang, one of the book’s four authors (the others are George Nazi, Boris Maurer, and Amol Phadke), and the San Francisco-based managing director and global 5G lead for Accenture, sat down to speak with Healthcare Innovation Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland, to discuss some of the implications of this technology-facilitated shift to healthcare delivery and operations. Below are excerpts from that interview.
What is the context of the evolution of 5G relative to the writing of the book?
As I’ve been working through the different Gs—in 2G, a lot of it was about building out different services like text messaging; in 3G, it was about networks; in 4G, it was about cloud services, etc. And we’ve been focusing on 5G for quite a long time, even though it’s just emerging into the consumer space. My background has been in wireless and mobility, building our networks. I’m a mechanical engineer by training.
What key things should health system CIOs know, as they move into this new world?
First of all, 5G and edge-compute are a new generation of technology that can impact the provider, the insurer, and the patient; that’s one of those exciting opportunities.
And what about edge-compute?
It’s distributed computing and caching. Right now, if you’re working through a model where you need a lot of storage or computational power, you often have to go to a central server, meaning, from a device to a network, from a network to a core, from a core to a central cloud. That’s four or five moves to get to a computing cache. With edge-compute, you can potentially bring that cache into the hospital itself; it cuts out a considerable amount.
How are we going to get the needed infrastructure into homes? That shift will potentially be expensive.
There are a few layers involved: the connectivity itself, the device, and the service or application you’re putting on top of it. All of those can be a challenge, whether it’s an advanced-age person trying to manage a device, or a chronic disease needing constant attention. What’s different this time is that the technology is different. In the current world, everybody’s relying on Wi-Fi—everything about getting an iPad to a person requires a shipment, the unboxing, the use of passwords, the calibration of settings. When you unbox a smartphone and turn it on, it automatically registers and tunes into a network. But the new technology simplifies this. Furthermore, when it comes to where the connectivity itself is, for the consumers, there are different flavors of 5G. There’s a low-band 5G that’s similar to cellular and is running on frequency similar to cellular, versus the high-band spectrum of 5G, which is measured in feet. Not all 5G is equal; and successful 5G will be deployed across high-band, mid-band, and low-band frequencies. And it will provide new capabilities, including with faster bandwidth and lower latency to bring the technology into the home.
So with the device itself, right now, it’s very much, here it is. We’ve tried to make the user experience as simple as possible; but now that we have new capabilities, we can bring new people into the home.
And as we hopefully end some of the post-COVID situations, we won’t necessarily need to install devices physically into your home; we’ll be able to remote in. Instead of lumping it together and saying all of it is extended reality—we’ll use virtual reality for some training, and augmented reality for other uses. Latency can lead to motion-sickness. So if we can deliver an experience where we’re training you to administer or receive treatment—that can advance remote care delivery.
How might this be organized?
We actually wrote this book before the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges will get knocked down around technology and social change. Well, the technology is starting to deploy. And one of the byproducts of the pandemic is that we’ve accelerated some of the changes around social norms.
Now we need to orchestrate this. And in terms of the stakeholders, it’s about making it easy for patients, providers, and insurers to adopt. If we can make it easy to orchestrate the connectivity, the device, the application, the cloud, and the physical training and usage of it, then we’ve done a good job. This is like a team sport, where you need a strong captain to deploy this. You need teamwork to make this happen; and it’s about how you can share information across the entire team, so you can share the goal.
Right now, look at what’s happening even today in the home, where everyone has a different goal. Somebody wants to save money, somebody wants to make this convenient, but there’s no orchestrator helping to coordinate all of this. Not just giving you a bathroom scale, but helping you to figure out how to change your habits, including your exercise, eating, and sleep. My exercise is on a Fitbit, my food intake is on a watch, right? So those all can be orchestrated through care delivery itself.
Who will be directing the deployment and use of this technology in the healthcare industry? The CIO of a patient care organization? The CTO?
The opportunity is there for the CIO or CTO; it comes down to who wants to orchestrate it. It’s just like when you’re in a hospital, everyone is coming into your patient room, and you have no clue who all the people are. And my sister’s a surgeon. I think this opportunity has been around in the healthcare industry for some time. It’s almost as though there’s no foreman or project manager on a construction site; of course, that’s not exactly true in healthcare; there is, in a hospital or medical facility. But there isn’t really, in the home, yet. That’s why you need that level of coordination. There’s an absolute need for an orchestrator. The opportunity is there for the CTO, CIO, or a technology player.
When new entrants come into the value chain, it opens up the opportunity for new players. So if you want to seize the opportunity, for you to do it, otherwise, new entrants will come in. The auto industry is facing that, in terms of devices inside cars. GM is saying, my cars can accepted Android or Apple, and they’re being the orchestrator.
Do you have any additional thoughts to share?
I think that now is such a critical moment: as hospitals rethink what post-COVID looks like, as patients go home and leaders rethink home healthcare, now is the time for a new generation of technology, a new opportunity to orchestrate, and a new dynamic.