Veterans Affairs Launches Its First 5G-Enabled Hospital

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie Richard Drew/AP

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Secretary Robert Wilkie said it was the first in the nation and one of the first in the world. 

The Veterans Affairs Department’s health care facility in Palo Alto, California, is poised to become the agency’s first 5G-enabled hospital—and one of the first in the world. 

During a “State of the VA” speech in Washington Wednesday, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie unveiled the agency’s plans to tap into fifth-generation wireless technology to provide veterans with ultramodern medical care. 

“VA will now have the first 5G hospital in America,” Wilkie said. “It should be operational this week.” 

5G holds the promise of high speed, low latency internet connections that the secretary said will revolutionize VA services and advance a range of innovative efforts agency insiders are already pursuing. Wilkie explained that VA providers are presently tapping into virtual reality to treat patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and piloting exoskeleton devices to help vets with spinal cord injuries regain their mobility—both of which could possibly be enhanced through the budding technology. He said 5G will also deliver more detailed images of patients’ anatomy, and it’s expected to offer super clear resolutions that will enable telesurgeries during which physicians work together instantaneously from separate parts of the country.

“It will also be a breakthrough for surgeons in the operating room. Imagine a doctor being able to see layers beneath the skin before the first incision is ever made. The [Food and Drug Administration] was never able to approve these sorts of practices and surgery because 4G technology simply could not carry that much information,” Wilkie said. “But we are on the cutting edge and moving forward in ways that just a few years ago were unimaginable.” 

VA’s Director of Media Affairs Jordan Eason confirmed to Nextgov Thursday that the initial phase of the facility’s 5G launch was officially deemed operational this morning—a milestone that was “over a year in the making.” Eason reiterated the secretary’s hopes that 5G will radically transform health care delivery and said this move marks the agency’s intention to “be at the forefront of leading the research, testing and further solution development to drive toward that new reality.” 

Still, VA does not expect the initial 5G-driven progress to happen overnight. 

“Advancements and scale will come with time, but will also require patience as there are still many aspects of this new technology that will need to be examined before further implementation is practical,” Eason said.