Stanford-Affiliated VA Healthcare System Announces Plans For 5G-Enabled Hospital

The VA’s Palo Alto Health Care System has announced that it will transform one of its facilities into what it says is the first entirely 5G-enabled hospital in the U.S. This effort by the system, which is an affiliate of Stanford University School of Medicine, will represent the first 5G-enabled health facility in the U.S., VA officials said.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said that 5G networks, which offer faster data rates, higher-capacity networks and lower latency, can provide tremendous benefits to providers and patients, according to a story appearing in FierceHealthcare.

5G networks “will deliver [richer], more detailed, three-dimensional images of the patient’s anatomy with resolution so clear and consistent that it will give us reliable use of important telesurgery services to veterans across the nation,” he told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

In addition, 5G networking will offer a breakthrough for surgeons in the OR, according to FH. “Imagine a doctor being able to see layers beneath the skin before the first incision is ever made,” he said. “The FDA was never able to approve these sorts of practices in surgery [before] because 4G technology simply could not carry that much information,” Wilkie noted.

As part of his talk, Wilkie told the audience about other innovation projects in which the VA is engaged.

These include research into patient-controllable exoskeleton which can move paralyzed patients, the creation of virtual reality environments to treat veterans with PTSD and help them manage pain and the use of telehealth technology to treat patients living in rural areas.

Looking at this from an outside perspective, it’s worth noting that the VA’s announcement isn’t as remarkable as it may seem. After all, while this may be the first use of 5G within a hospital, in the near future more should emerge. Other health systems are already planning to roll out new facilities and programs embracing at least some 5G capabilities. (Editor’s Note: Since posting this story, a reader let us know that Rush System for Health in Chicago has been using a 5G network for just over a year, which means that the VA was mistaken about its being first. Our apologies for the error.)

For example, we recently reported on USC’s plans to launch of a smart cancer hospital embracing such technologies as multi-access edge computing and AI in addition to 5G capabilities. It would also be no surprise if the new “hospital of the future” being developed jointly by Microsoft and the Providence St. Joseph Health System comes to integrate 5G into its communication infrastructure.

What’s not mentioned often in these discussions, meanwhile, is that 5G unsurprisingly comes with disadvantages as well as strengths. For example, communications specialists note that 5G has a short wavelength and will require the use of more power and towers to transmit and receive data.  These power requirements make it likely that remote monitoring devices and wearables using 5G bandwidth will need to be redesigned for lower energy consumption, telecom experts say.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

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