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Oct 22, 2019

How 5G could one day save your life

Estimated reading time: 7-9 minutes

5G isn’t just a technology for faster wireless connection. Nor is it just a quantum leap in bandwidth, latency, or small-footprint low-power connectivity and computing power. It’s an aggregate of all these things, capable of creating an ultra-reliable pervasive network that will fundamentally change the way we experience the world. It will put artificial intelligence and augmented reality at our fingertips, coordinate ecosystems as small as our homes or as large as our national infrastructures – communications, transport, energy, water – and it will transform the way we experience healthcare. Ever since Philips first lent its support to 5G more than three years ago, we’ve been working on scenarios that illustrate the possibilities, so here’s just one take on how 5G could one day save your life:

No pulse, not breathing – your heart has stopped

At precisely 10.30 am, while walking beside the Amsterdam canals, your chest suddenly tightens. A searing pain shoots across your chest and down your arm. Within seconds your heart has stopped, and you’re slumped on the sidewalk. Your life flashes before your eyes. At 10.30 and 5 seconds, a passer-by spots you lying on the sidewalk and realizes you’re in trouble. No pulse, not breathing – your heart has stopped. By 10.30 and 30 seconds, she’s dialed the emergency services. However, 5G has already beaten her to it. Within five seconds, the 5G enabled smartwatch on your wrist had detected the sudden change in your heart rhythm via its inbuilt ECG (electrocardiogram) sensors, alerted the emergency services, and reported your exact location to them. It’s already streaming vital body signs data to help them assess the situation. Fortunately, you’re one of the really lucky ones. You not only have a smartwatch taking care of you, you also have someone next to you who can start CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). She’s already receiving instructions from the emergency operator on how to do it and your location has been automatically communicated to the phone of a nearby lay-responder who’s trained in resuscitation. The ambulance service has been alerted, and two paramedics are climbing into their ambulance. The problem is they are 15 minutes away. By that time you could have suffered severe brain damage. With the help of the passer-by and the lay responder who’s already rushing to the scene, the CPR might keep you going, but the statistics are against it.

At precisely 10.30 am, while walking beside the Amsterdam canals, your chest suddenly tightens. A searing pain shoots across your chest and down your arm. Within seconds your heart has stopped, and you’re slumped on the sidewalk. Your life flashes before your eyes.

Jeroen Tas

Chief Innovation & Strategy Officer, Philips

High-performance drone

Fortunately for you, 5G is still on the case. By 10.30 and 40 seconds a small aircraft hanger, no bigger than a dog kennel, is sliding open on the roof of a nearby office 2km away to reveal a high-performance drone, its cargo bay ‘locked and loaded’ with an automatic external defibrillator (AED). 5G has already monitored the AED’s state of readiness and knows it’s set to go. At a speed of 80 km/hour, flight time is around one and a half minutes. By 10.30 and 120 seconds it has you on visual, and thanks to its 5G connectivity, so do the paramedics in the ambulance speeding towards you so they know what to expect. By 10.30 and 150 seconds the drone has landed, and the AED’s electrodes are attached to your chest. Twenty seconds later your heart is shocked back into life. Thanks to 5G’s location, connectivity and IoT (Internet-of-Things) capabilities, time-to-defib has been a mere 2 minutes 50 seconds, well within the 4 to 6 minute period after which a lack of oxygen to your brain could cause serious damage.


But that’s not the end of the 5G story. Your heart is beating but you’re not yet out of the woods. Your heart attack and subsequent cardiac arrest was caused by a ruptured plaque – a lump of debris in a major cardiac artery that is still restricting the supply of oxygen to your heart. Fortunately, the AED’s 5G connectivity has already sent back critical ECG data to the ambulance crew and, even more importantly, to the emergency medical center where you’ll be taken – the one most appropriate to your needs where the necessary resources have already been put on stand-by to treat you. The 5G data from the AED is already providing the paramedics and doctors with valuable diagnostic information about the type of treatment you’ll need. 

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Digital twin

At 10.46 the ambulance arrives and takes over from the two members of the public who have helped to save your life. Once inside the ambulance, the paramedics immediately apply multiple body sensors to your skin. From now on 5G is connecting the vital body signs data they collect to algorithms in the cloud that watch out for any signs of deterioration in your condition. Combining  this continuous stream of data with your medical record and your digital twin that have been retrieved from the Cloud, they spot any changes and alert the paramedics to take the appropriate action. Those same wearable body sensors will remain with you throughout your entire journey through the hospital, from the moment you are admitted to the day you are discharged as well as your journey home, helping to keep you safe second-by-second.

Augmented reality

5G connectivity provided a comprehensive 3D model of your condition to the interventional cardiologist who cleared your blocked artery, restoring life-saving blood flow to your heart.  It helped make sure that everything needed in the cath lab was fully functional before your minimally-invasive image-guided coronary intervention was performed. It helped guide the cardiologist during the procedure using augmented reality (AR) – a 4D holographic image of your heart – and supported voice control of medical devices and imaging equipment to increase the speed and precision of the procedure.  And when your cardiologist needed an instant second-opinion during a particularly challenging part of your procedure, 5G facilitated bringing in a world-leading physician thousands of miles away via a virtual AR telepresence link.

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Via a 5G patch and an app on your smartwatch, it tracked your progress through the entire rehabilitation process, helped you make the lifestyle choices that will protect your heart against further attacks, prompted you to take your medication at the appropriate time, and kept you connected to your community-based care teams. Thanks to 5G and the delivery of seamless connected care that it enables, you’re back on your feet and enjoying life again.


Only 5% of people survive sudden cardiac arrest and over 7 million lives are lost. This is why Philips is actively supporting cardiac emergency care programs like Heart Safe City in Dubai and Mecca. 5G will contribute to real-time acute and chronic care. It will not only help people on an individual level, it will also enable hospitals to make better use of resources and deliver better care at lower cost – a topic I will cover in more detail in the coming months. 


Of course, the technologies we use every day need to be 100% safe. There is ongoing debate among scientists as new networks and cellular technology evolve. Although to date, no adverse health effects related to 5G have been found or confirmed, it is good to know that the scientific community is actively continuing to research this area. 


*Articles part of the ‘Future of Healthcare’ series give a glimpse of what the future of healthcare could potentially look like. They are not intended to be a reflection of today’s healthcare, products or services, or of future business roadmaps.

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Future of Healthcare series*


Jeroen Tas

Jeroen Tas

Chief Innovation & Strategy Officer

Jeroen is an experienced global executive and entrepreneur with a track record of leading innovation in the healthcare, information technology and financial services industries. Leading the company’s global Innovation & Strategy organization, he’s responsible for creating a pipeline of innovative business propositions that address emerging customer needs and enable a high-growth, profitable health continuum strategy.

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