The future of healthcare delivery is hybrid, but connectivity and infrastructure issues must be addressed

Over the past two years, the healthcare sector has been challenged to rapidly adopt a variety of technology trends like telehealth, as well as to closely follow an accelerated level of innovation in medical devices and new approaches for delivering care. These trends have underscored the importance of connectivity in solving for the latest challenges of the day. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission recently acknowledged that reliable cellular connectivity is a social determinant of health.

At a session sponsored by T-Mobile at Becker's 10th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable, senior healthcare leaders discussed the future of care delivery, as well as connectivity-related opportunities and challenges. Panelists from T-Mobile for Business were:

  • Christine Gall, DrPH, head of healthcare product marketing
  • Adam Greenwood, specialist solutions engineer
  • David Hall, senior account executive, connectivity

Key takeaways were:

  1. Digital literacy, especially in rural areas, is a hurdle for new care delivery models. Many rural communities have limited access to broadband connectivity. As a result, residents are digitally disenfranchised and many have low levels of digital literacy. "It's impossible to deploy care models in a hybrid way, because there's no bandwidth and limited digital literacy, especially among older patients," the CEO of a critical access hospital in Northern California said. "Younger demographic groups want to embrace technology and changes in care, but the older generations don't want to. Before we can shift care models, we need the infrastructure to support that nationwide."

With the acquisition of Sprint, T-Mobile has committed to the FCC that by 2026, it will cover 99 percent of the U.S. population and 90 percent of rural America with 5G. "T-Mobile's mid-band spectrum is a differentiator and we plan to use that to provide ubiquitous connectivity in rural markets," Mr. Hall said.

Economic disenfranchisement is a barrier to connected healthcare technologies in both urban and rural areas. Digital literacy and access to connectivity are just two pieces of the puzzle for new healthcare delivery models. Affordability is also a key issue that can disrupt providing care and contributes to inequity. Many people in urban and rural communities simply can't afford the monthly fee for broadband Internet service. "In a large city, 27 miles east of Chicago, the census found that 26 to 50 percent of residents did not have broadband connectivity," Mr. Hall said. "If a healthcare organization tries to launch a telehealth or wearables program, upwards of 50 percent of the population won't be able to take advantage of it." Companies like T-Mobile, non-profit organizations and healthcare payers are all trying to address this. "Some national payers recognize that this is impacting the population health of their members, so they are providing people with mobile hotspots and tablets," Dr. Gall said. T-Mobile's Project 10Million is putting Internet-connected devices into the hands of 10 million youth in disenfranchised areas.

Cellular technology is the wave of the future for mobile healthcare assets. When it comes to fixed assets, Wi-Fi is a viable technology. However, mobile devices like wearables and robotics work best with cellular connectivity. "Cellular and Wi-Fi will coexist for the foreseeable future, but Wi-Fi doesn't scale well and presents security challenges," Mr. Hall said. Cellular connectivity inside hospital buildings can sometimes be problematic. However, private 5G especially when delivered as a service can offer a reliable, affordable solution allowing healthcare organizations to evolve their network simply and securely without losing existing investment in technology or assets, delivering a secure, reliable communication path to staff and patients.

  1. As healthcare organizations move to the cloud, redundant connectivity is growing in importance. Many hospitals and health systems are migrating IT systems to the cloud. That requires not only a primary broadband connection, but also a secondary, redundant topology and instant failover capability. "When you move to the cloud, the Achilles heel is your connectivity to the world. I can't do anything without the information superhighway, and my connection needs to be redundant," one participant explained.

Looking ahead, healthcare leaders hope that connectivity will serve as a great leveler and enable them to serve their communities better.

T-Mobile is committed to helping organizations succeed and thrive through their digital transformation projects, including infrastructure-as-a-service and network-as-a-service adoption. "We have lots of industry knowledge and can bring unlikely partners together," Dr. Gall said. "The key is to look at problems from different angles and try to solve them in unique ways."

5G: Capable device req'd; coverage not available in some areas. Some uses may require certain plan or feature; see

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