What 5G does for healthcare

Healthcare CIOs told Becker's they expect 5G networks to have a tremendous effect on healthcare as hospitals look to integrate more digital tools within their care delivery system.

Cellular networks began rolling out the next-generation wireless network in 2018. The technology is faster and can handle more connected devices.

"5G networks hold great promise as they allow for the bandwidth needed for data-intensive solutions," Edward Lee, MD, executive vice president, CIO at Oakland, Calif.-based The Permanente Federation, told Becker's. "This includes real-time patient monitoring, image and video transmission, and augmented and virtual reality."

"Enhanced connectivity will support the future of care delivery as more care is delivered into the home and outside of our medical offices and hospitals, helping us to advance patient education, improve continuity of care, and push the boundaries of telehealth," Dr. Lee added.

Cleveland Clinic recently opened a hospital in Mentor, Ohio, outfitted with 5G technology provided in partnership with Verizon Business. The health system aims for the technology to allow them to use augmented reality and virtual reality tools in surgery.

However, CIOs said that 5G could also have immense benefits for rural hospitals looking to expand remote care options.

"Having worked in a rural healthcare environment for quite some time, I am excited at the possibility of remote surgeries and robotics, enhanced remote care delivery both in the hospital and the home, specialized services becoming more widely accessible, the promise of care delivery to 'where the patient is,' and robust patient monitoring," said Darrell Bodnar, CIO of Whitefield, N.H.-based North Country Healthcare. "The 5G technology will be a key factor in care delivery for those in rural underserved areas nationally and globally. It will be a game changer in narrowing the healthcare equity divide."

The government has been interested in the potential for 5G technology for the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2020, the VA announced Project Convergence, a partnership between Verizon, Microsoft and Medvis that would allow clinicians to view health information on a 3D headset powered by 5G. This month, Verizon deployed full 5G capabilities at Palo Alto (Calif.) VA Medical Center.

As both the government and private health systems look to the potential of 5G, CIOs said that if 5G is utilized in the right conditions, it could transform healthcare.

"5G and beyond holds major promise for health systems, so long as it's medical grade and reliable. I commend health systems that have taken the plunge first as I assume they are located in areas of the country that have the cellular coverage, density, and high availability to support life-saving equipment having that continuous real-time connectivity," said Aaron Miri, chief digital and information officer at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Baptist Health.

"I also commend cellular carriers for having the confidence in their product and the appetite for patient safety risk to go for the gold medal. It's this type of risk/reward innovation that will be the game changer long-term and give that always connected experience our patients, and caregivers, expect in the 21st century."

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