Jul 24, 2023 - Health

First in Axios: VA hospital goes fully 5G

Illustration of a golden caduceus with wifi extending from the top of it

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The Palo Alto VA Medical Center is set to become the first completely 5G-enabled hospital in the U.S. this week, officials told Axios first.

Why it matters: 5G is expected to be a game changer when it comes to enabling smart technology in and around hospitals.

  • But setting up that infrastructure to move massive amounts of data around a facility like a large health system is no small undertaking.
  • VA Palo Alto, which is affiliated with Stanford University, began shifting to 5G in 2020. But it wasn't able to take advantage of all the capabilities because it was on a commercial network and didn't have all three necessary 5G frequency bands to move information around.
  • This deployment of Verizon private 5G infrastructure will make that possible.

What they're saying: 5G has been identified by the federal government as a strategic priority, and the hospital will serve as a test bed, Thomas Osborne, director of the Veterans Health Administration's National Center for Collaborative Healthcare Innovation told Axios.

  • "Our goal is to put the VA in the driver's seat, not to be a passive recipient or observer, but to lead," Osborne said. "We hope others will see what we do, be inspired by it, learn from it, and that positive benefit will ripple throughout the rest of the country."

A primer: The hospital started with using what is known as high-band spectrum, which is built for speed but can't transmit data as far as 5G, he said.

  • Low-band spectrum 5G can move information further, but not all at once.
  • The hospital now has a mixture of high-, mid-, and low-band spectrum that will allow an even more advanced level of data sharing across its campus, said Osborne, who is also chief medical informatics officer.

The new network will enable advanced clinical capabilities, such as:

  • Augmented reality-assisted presurgical guidance with 3D X-ray vision and CT scans superimposed on patients' bodies to chart a surgical path for physicians.
  • VR-assisted medical learning through which surgeons and medical interns can walk into 3D models of human organs.
  • Holographic projections in patients' homes for remote caregiver visits.

Be smart: It's the early days of private 5G networks, but they are allowing organizations to fully uncouple their networks from shared systems and get better control of their service, Kyle Malady, CEO of Verizon Business, told Axios.

  • "I've spent a fair amount of time in hospitals. They're fairly clunky. They use a lot of old tech and then they're plugging in a lot of stuff and sometimes things don't work," Malady said.
  • "Being more mobile, more wireless for the back-of-house operation will prove beneficial to them," he said. "But I also think they'll come up with interesting use cases we haven't even really thought about yet. As you get the capability, people figure out how to use it and how to exploit it and that's what I'm excited about."

Catch up quick: Last month, Verizon Public Sector announced a nine-year expansion of its partnership with the VA, worth $448 million through which the network provider will supply mobile devices and mission-critical communications systems.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to say Kyle Malady is CEO of Verizon Business, not CEO of Verizon Public Sector.

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