Positioning 5G to Transform Health and Care in the Near Future
5G has the potential to transform healthcare but a myriad of factors must be aligned for healthcare-enabled 5G to be widely effective. Verizon convened a round table of healthcare IT leaders to discuss what 5G-enabled healthcare would look like, the challenges and strategies for facilitating 5G’s rollout across the sector. The participants were members of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), with CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell serving as the moderator. They were:
- Dave Dully, Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Technology Officer, Baptist Health
- Dan Nigrin, MD, Senior Vice President for Information Services and CIO, Boston Children’s Hospital
- Anshul Pande, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Stanford Children’s Hospital
- Reid Stephan, Vice President and CIO, Luke’s Health System
- Bryce Thompson, Senior Director, Intermountain Healthcare
- Tanya Townsend, Senior Vice President and CIO, LCMC Health
Joining them from Verizon were:
- Lindsay Gleason, Director, Connected Solutions
- Daniel Lawson, Managing Director, Solutions Architect
5G in Healthcare Today
Although 5G is getting a lot of attention in the consumer world, it is still in its infancy in healthcare. 5G’s superior speed and low latency promise to open doors for new ways to deliver care. The potential expands when 5G is coupled with edge computing. Yet for the most part 5G-enabled healthcare is years away, which poses a problem for healthcare IT executives.
“There is a perception that doesn’t match the reality,” said Reid Stephan, vice president and CIO at St. Luke’s Health System. With numerous carriers advertising their 5G capabilities, hospital leadership may assume that 5G is available and will be easy to implement. Some may even question the need to invest in existing wi-fi and other technologies, thinking 5G in healthcare is just around the corner.
Given the newness of the technology, healthcare IT executives themselves are struggling to understand its implications and how to educate others. “I think there is opportunity to clarify where is the future and how are we going to benefit the community we serve at large but also on our campuses,” said Dan Nigrin, MD, senior vice president and CIO at Boston Children’s Hospital. “People are out there saying we don’t need to do wi-fi anymore because we are going to be 5G.”
Verizon sees 5G providing significant opportunities to enhance healthcare, but to do that with mmWave-based 5G will require a dense network of small cells, fiber and other infrastructure to support 5G radio frequency bands, according to Verizon’s Managing Director, Solutions Architect Daniel Lawson. “When you combine fiber spectrum with small cells and with compute, it creates capabilities that haven’t existed in the past. Coverage will be progressive,” he added. “It won’t be like 4G where we built it out to a significant percentage of the population and just turned it on.”
5G in Healthcare in 3 Years
CHIME President and CEO Russell Branzell encouraged the participants to project three years into the future, envisioning use of fully functional and accessible 5G. Some answered they would incorporate it as a secondary network, others as primary. “I would say primary but at the same time, I would need to evaluate needs for secondary because I have always needed one in the past,” said Bryce Thompson, senior director of outreach products and strategy at Intermountain Healthcare. “Is there a primary/secondary story there that helps relieve infrastructure costs for both? Because if so, that would be a huge shift.”
Looking beyond the traditional hospital-based model to other settings, IT leaders said 5G could be a game changer. It would allow organizations to provide health and care to patients, meeting patients where they are rather than requiring patients to travel to a facility for care. “What about remote image capability when you have a network like that?” suggested Dave Dully, vice president of information technology and chief technology officer at Baptist Health. “Emergency services, chronic care management, monitoring activity of patients over a large geographic area – there would be lots of opportunities with clinical technologies once 5G is available that today are more difficult without this technology.”
“The broader the area the more massive effect you get,” added Anshul Pande, vice president and chief technology officer at Stanford Children’s Hospital. Health systems that serve rural communities could expand their reach, and semi-urban areas like central California, which Stanford serves, also would benefit by facilitating linkages. “That has a pretty powerful effect in terms of what we are struggling with, which is just the interconnections.”
Verizon sees 5G potentially playing a prominent role in innovative healthcare applications. That could include home-based telecare with immersive physical therapy for patients who had a hip or knee replacement, for instance, remote staff training for off-site health facilities, remote imaging and even remote surgery. “Speed is really exciting but it is more about throughput and how do we send these massive medical images with less time and how do we create this immersive tactile internet so we can do the robotics and the remote surgery and not have a blip of packet loss in telehealth,” said Lindsay Gleason, director of Connected Solutions at Verizon. “That is what we feel is the true 5G.”
Taking a Proactive Approach
If having these 5G-enabled healthcare opportunities is a goal, what do healthcare IT leaders need to do now to make them happen? What would impede or facilitate their development? Nigrin pointed out that simply having 5G available doesn’t enable it. Dully emphasized the importance of having shared standards across carriers. Stephan underscored the need for vendors to future-proof supporting devices so health systems aren’t stuck with obsolete equipment when 5G is fully deployed. Given how highly regulated healthcare is in the U.S., public policies may need to be revised, updated or created to align with technological advancements, Thompson suggested. Making a business case that healthcare organizations’ leadership can understand will be essential, said Tanya Townsend, senior vice president and CIO at LCMC Health.
“How do I tell my CEO the story?” Townsend asked. “He is going to ask, ‘What does that save us? How will this benefit us? How does this contribute to the bottom line? What is the ROI on it?’ I am assuming if I made it my primary network there would be an investment aspect but hopefully there are other costs going away or additional value or benefits and capabilities to realize.” Inadequate reimbursement for telehealth services also can be an impediment, she noted.
All agreed that use cases would be beneficial to demonstrate benefits such as cost savings and greater efficiencies. Pande also recommended having a roadmap or architecture as a reference. Verizon wants to partner with customers to test the technology in real-world settings, identify technical and policy challenges and address them proactively. “It would be great to have a concerted effort to build out one or two really effective (use cases), maybe a hospital architecture of the future and why, and to go out and test,” Lawson said. “Let’s build it in a lab and test it in the wild and see how it works. That is the kind of engagement and collaboration that will make the journey successful for all of us.”
Timing is critical with a platform like 5G, the thought leaders emphasized, knowing that future generations will follow. Amplify that challenge by the number of healthcare organizations in the U.S. and globally, and the need to be proactive is even more pressing. “It will be a reality; it is just a matter of when,” Branzell said. “There will be a 6G. This will be a never-ending process. How do we make this a win?” CHIME might serve as a facilitator by bringing key players together to develop resources such as roadmaps, he suggested. These collaborations would help to align healthcare organizations, industry and government to ensure that patients and providers experience all the benefits that 5G and future platforms might offer.
RETURN TO CHIME MEDIA