The Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, California, is set to become the first in the U.S., and possibly the world, to make use of fifth-generation cellular wireless technology (5G) to transform the delivery of health care, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said Wednesday.
"VA will now have the first 5G hospital in America. As I speak, Palo Alto is about to become the first 5G-enabled health facility in the world and should be operational this year," with parts of the system coming online this week, he said at a National Press Club news conference.
The new technology is expected to deliver "richer, more detailed, three-dimensional images of the patient's anatomy with resolution so clear and consistent that it will give us reliable use of important telesurgery services to veterans across the nation," Wilkie said. "That means reliable capacity to allow the VA's best physicians to consult during surgery even when they are not in the same room or halfway across the country."
5G's higher resolution and faster downloads will enhance the VA's expanding use of telehealth to reach rural veterans.
In fiscal 2019, more than 900,000 veterans used VA telehealth services, a 17% increase over the previous year, according to department statistics.
Using 5G, doctors at the VA's Palo Alto Health Care System (PAHCS), which is affiliated with Stanford University, will be able to "look at a patient and look below the incision line to guide a surgeon in ways that have never been possible," Wilkie said.
Doctors will now have the ability to "see beneath layers of skin before the first incision is ever made" through three-dimensional images of a patient's anatomy, he said.
Such procedures were not possible under federal guidelines before the advent of 5G, Wilkie added.
The Food and Drug Administration "was never able to approve these practices" because the available 4G technology "simply could not carry that much information. We are on the cutting edge," he explained.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.