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Use of 5G Technology to Improve Veteran Healthcare

Published: September 29, 2022

Federal Market AnalysisBig DataHealth ITInformation TechnologyMobilityVA

VA looks to actively employ innovative and emerging technologies to improve the lives of veterans. One such effort includes applying 5G technology to veteran healthcare.

VA is experimenting with 5G mobile networks at three medical centers to explore new applications such as smart medical devices and augmented reality healthcare. VA is also considering 5G to boost connectivity in rural settings, where wireless connectivity is unreliable.

VA is experimenting with 5G mobile networks at the Palo Alto, Seattle, and Miami medical centers under a program dubbed Project Convergence. The experiment combines 5G technology with cloud services, visualization software, and headsets for an augmented reality surgical navigation system. The 5G-enabled system allows for increased, real-time data processing and transfer in advanced surgical care.

VA is partnering with Verizon for 5G technology, Medivis for surgical augmented reality (AR) clinical visualization software, and Microsoft for its HoloLens 2 headsets and Azure cloud services. By combining these technologies, VA is testing augmented reality “X-ray vision” and superimposing medical images on patients in lab settings.

Earlier this year, VA’s director of network engineering Daniel Mesimer, told Federal News Network, “We see that as a launching point for us to engage with our innovations teams to really explore what those use cases are and how we fold the 5G capabilities into the VA network infrastructure.” Eventually, the VA wants to combine the experimental 5G networks with the operational networks to provide staff and patients with high-speed, low latency data connections, according to Mesimer.

Dr. Tom Osborne, Director of VA’s National Center for Collaborative Healthcare Innovation, told Federal News Network’s Tom Temin yesterday that the next frontier will be converting all of the data VA has into insights and using it for individualized personal care. He said that the 5G infrastructure will help enable this capability. “We’ve collected a lot of data, and in particular, most places have gone to electronic health care systems. So we have tons of data, it’s an amazing resource. But converting that data into information, knowledge, and wisdom, that’s something that will bring great value and something that we can do more of,” Osborne stated.  

The 5G infrastructure is allowing the pilot medical centers to move more data, faster. When diagnostic images, genomic data, EHR information, sensor data, etc. are combined it creates an enormous amount of information to move and process. According to Osborne, “having 5G, and in particular cloud computing adjacent… allows us to do things that we maybe could only imagine before.”

Much of Osborne’s team’s work is translational, taking scientific work from the bench or lab to the bedside to improve patient outcomes. They are taking historical data and using it in predictive analytics and clinical decision support to provide faster diagnosis and treatment.

The 5G, AR, and analytics capabilities are also enabling teams to turn two-dimensional images into three-dimensional holograms to be used for teaching, training, and pre-surgical planning.  “We’re working diligently to use this system for operative guidance, in other words, to be able to see what you’re doing with greater fidelity, and have safer, faster, more effective procedures and care,” Osborne told Federal News Network. AR capabilities allow them to overlay images on top of a patient, virtually, providing three-dimensional X-ray vision to guide procedures and diagnosis.

These capabilities have huge implications for telemedicine, as well. This type of technology could enable VA to virtually bring people to a different location to help guide surgical procedures, perform diagnoses, or speak with a patient.

VA is also combining 5G with software-defined wide area networks to boost connections in rural locations which could help conquer the digital divide and provide veterans in rural areas more options for care.

As VA matures these capabilities and looks to bring them to the operational forefront, federal IT contractors may find opportunities to assist VA with the expansion of 5G capabilities, AR, and analytics across the VA healthcare system.