Deloitte predicts video calls with doctors and debunking 5G health risks will be among the technology topics of prime interest in Canada in 2021.
Duncan Stewart, director of technology, media and telecommunications research at Deloitte Canada, said in an interview that 2020 propelled virtual health care services forward, and that video calls, in particular, with doctors are expected to grow next year. The trends report was released in early December.
“The barriers have been removed,” he said about virtual healthcare. “More people have devices, have the connections, have the know-how. A lot of older people did not have the right technology, and in general, patients were a bit nervous to do it. Insurance companies wouldn’t reimburse for video calls, governments and regulators said you weren’t able to do video calls either for reasons around privacy or regulation.”
But sometime in April of this year, Stewart said, all of the barriers were “abruptly lowered and/or removed.”
While virtual healthcare (which includes phone calls, text messages, emails, and video calls) will see growth in 2021, more people will feel comfortable making video call appointments with their doctor.
The report said that the percentage of virtual visits to doctors that are over video will rise 5 per cent globally, up from an estimated 1 per cent of virtual contact with doctors in 2019.
“While 5 per cent may not sound like much, consider that 8.5 million doctor’s visits, worth a total of approximately US$500 billion, took place in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in 2019 alone.
“Five per cent would translate into more than 400 million video visits and about US$25 billion in value,” the report said.
According to a June 2020 poll by the Canadian Medical Association, 47 per cent of Canadians have used virtual care services during the pandemic.
The survey added that 58 per cent of Canadians would prefer to speak to a doctor in person, while 14 per cent would embrace video services.
Stewart added that while virtual healthcare includes various methods of communication, in 2021 video as a percentage of telehealth will grow even faster “because seeing somebody’s face is a much better diagnostic tool than communicating with them over email.”
Debunking 5G health risks will be a focus as the new networks grow
As 5G becomes increasingly available in Canada, so will the conversation around whether or not 5G poses a health risk, Stewart said, but added that there are no health risks.
“There was no health hazard with 4G, people were worried about it when it came out, but now people are like ‘5G is out, oh my gosh, 5G is probably weirder and worse,’” he said.
5G is not fully available in Canada. In January, Rogers announced the rollout of its initial 5G wireless networks in various downtown markets across Canada. In June, Bell and Telus each launched similar initial 5G networks.
The Canadian government also delayed the 3,500MHz spectrum auction by six months. The spectrum is critical for 5G deployment, specifically in cities where thousands of small cells will be deployed to be used for self-driving cars and many other consumer applications.
In general, 5G operates over traditional and new cell radio frequency bands that include the low (sub-1GHz such as 700MHz), mid (1.6GHz, around 3.5-3.8GHz), and millimetre-wave (mmWave, such as 28GHz) ranges.
Stewart said that many people think that because 5G will offer faster speeds it means it will use more electricity and power and that will affect an individual’s health.
The report indicated that the most common misperceptions are that 5G will cause cancer and that the 5G-emitted radiation weakens the immune system, enabling COVID-19 to spread.
“Both of these fears, in our view, are grossly overblown,” the report said. “It is very unlikely that radiation from 5G mobile networks and 5G phones will affect the health of any single individual.”
Stewart added that 5G uses much less power to broadcast and that the technology and engineering behind 5G uses less power than 4G.
The report further clarified that 5G, does generate radiation, but at a very safe level.
“None of it is radioactive radiation. 5G base stations and phones, and the frequency ranges within which 5G operates, are very likely to be operating well within safe parameters in 2021 and throughout 5G’s lifetime, which may extend to two decades,” the report said.
“Radiation within these parameters does not significantly raise the risk of cancer. It also does not weaken the immune system, and thus has not contributed to the spread of COVID-19.”
Stewart said that most people with concerns have encountered active disinformation campaigns that mislead individuals about the benefits of 5G.
“There appear to be a number of active disinformation campaigns by hostile actors promoting 5G conspiracy theories, along with other things like anti-vaxxing,” he said. “But at a high-level, when someone reads an article saying 5G is like 4G but 100 times faster, they think it’s 100 times higher power. It isn’t.”