T-Mobile and AT&T bring 5G to VA hospitals

The VA 5G hospital model will represent a paradigm shift in the way veterans receive healthcare services. 

5G enhancements are poised to elevate health care delivery and patient satisfaction at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities in two major U.S. metropolitan areas: Seattle, Washington and Miami, Florida. 

AT&T and T-Mobile announced their new initiatives with VA facilities in early 2021. 

AT&T described a public-private partnership with the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System as a plan to pilot several 5G health care use cases with a combination of 5G technology and multi-access edge computing (MEC). 

T-Mobile’s partnership with the Miami VA Healthcare System includes bringing high speed mobile connectivity via its “Ultra Capacity 5G” technology to staff and patients with capable devices.

female health care worker using mobile tablet in hospital

5G VA hospital applications

Each of these announcements reflects a new era for connectivity in the uniquely hectic and technology-dependent  health care sector. 

AT&T and VA Puget Sound Healthcare System

Chris Smith, Vice President - Civilian and Shared Services at AT&T Public Sector and FirstNet, describes the AT&T/VA Puget Sound public-private partnership as innovative. 

Smith said it goes “well beyond a single-room care environment to encompass an entire medical care and training campus.” 

VA Puget Sound Healthcare System Background

Founded in 1923, VA Puget Sound Healthcare System is the primary referral site for the VA’s northwest region, serving veteran populations throughout Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. The facilities operating under the VA Puget Sound banner care for more than 112,000 veterans and also house regional training programs for thousands of medical professionals. 

In addition to two large-scale facilities in Lakewood and Seattle, VA Puget Sound operates seven community-based satellite outpatient sites located throughout the U.S. northwest region. 

AT&T 5G/MEC Project at VA Puget Sound Healthcare System

AT&T’s 5G initiative with VA Puget Sound is ambitious. The combination 5G-MEC deployment across the entirety of a VA health care and training facility will be the first of its kind.  

AT&T describes MEC as a “computer and cellular network architecture that brings real-time, hand-bandwidth, low-latency access to latency dependent mobile applications.” The company anticipates that the 5G-MEC approach will empower VA Puget Sound to deliver health care in a new way and to transform its business models, based on research by Gartner.

AT&T cites several potential health care-focused use cases for the initiative:

  • Mobile-to-mobile connectivity across and between medical devices for tracking people and assets across facilities

  • Improvements to medical procedures through technologies such as augmented and virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)

  • Remote and virtual pain management capabilities 

  • Remote and/or near real-time surgical assistance via layered surgical techniques enhanced by AR

AT&T anticipates the 5G/MEC initiative to be deployed and running by the end of 2021. 

T-Mobile and Miami VA Healthcare System

Mike Katz, EVP, T-Mobile for Business, identifies T-Mobile as a long-standing partner of the VA and the medical teams at the Miami VA Healthcare System. 

Katz said, “We set out to do good with our 5G network and right now health care is more important than ever. T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G brings health care providers the fastest 5G network of any provider enabling them to deliver high quality medical care.” 

Miami VA Healthcare System Background

Founded in 1968, the Miami VA Healthcare System serves Veterans across three South Florida Counties (Miami-Date, Broward, and Monroe). The system serves around 150,00o veterans at its primary care facility in downtown Miami.

The Miami VA Healthcare System also operates comprehensive medical care facilities throughout the region focused on various specialties and serves as a referral facility for the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center and other Florida-based VA facilities.

T-Mobile Ultra Capacity 5G at Miami VA Healthcare System

T-Mobile first 5G deployment at a hospital facility will allow Miami VA doctors and nurses to tap into “America’s largest and fastest 5G network,” according to the company. 

T-Mobile’s Ultra Capacity 5G can deliver speeds of 300 Mbps (7.5 times faster than today’s LTE limitations), with peaks up to 1 Gbps. The company notes that when it comes to health care, every second counts. 

T-Mobile anticipates its Ultra Capacity 5G technology will allow Miami VA teams to “quickly access high bandwidth files, such as imaging results, labs and medical charts without having to be tethered to a computer.” 

The company also expects the more robust 5G network to help the health care system better deliver its VA Video Connect telehealth services to veterans. This program has seen a 79% increase in the number of patients served over the previous year, according to T-Mobile.

Other 5G hospital applications

In its February 2020 article, “Connected world: An evolution in connectivity beyond the 5G revolution,” McKinsey Global Institute dives into several applications where connectivity improvements are poised to revolutionize key industries, including health care. 

For example, the research firm identifies improved 5G connectivity as central for functions like:

  • At-home, real-time patient monitoring due to low-latency networks and high densities of connected devices and sensors 

  • Data flow across medical systems, leading to smoother operations and coordinated care

  • AI-powered decision-support tools that will enable more accuracy in diagnoses 

  • Task automation that allows for more patient facetime from caregivers

  • Better aggregation and analysis of enormous data sets, leading to new treatments

In the article, McKinsey estimates that these use cases could “free up additional investment capacity in health care and generate $250 billion to $420 billion in global GDP impact by 2030.” 

Looking ahead

While VA 5G hospital systems are among the first major health care systems to benefit from the significant speed and capacity increase offered by this next-generation technology, they are surely on the leading edge of a much larger movement. 

Better connectivity has emerged as a foundational requirement if health care advancements are to evolve to their full potential.  

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T-Mobile, AT&T, VA, mobile edge computing, MEC, 5G