AT&T and VA pilot healthcare innovations with 5G, multi-access edge computing

The goal of the partnership is to improve services for the approximately 9 million veterans who use the VA annually.

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Image: AT&T

Tuesday is the first deployment of 5G and multi-access edge computing (MEC) capabilities for the US Department of Veterans Affairs. AT&T has installed its 5G and MEC tech at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, and the public-private partnership hopes to eventually deploy it systemwide to improve the way the approximately 9 million vets receive healthcare services annually. 

SEE: 5G: What it means for edge computing (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

MEC, AT&T explained, is "essentially a computer and cellular network architecture that brings real-time, high-bandwidth, low-latency access to latency dependent mobile applications."

"This 5G system allows for increased carrier speeds and provides the next generation of cellular and mobility technology for both veterans and staff," said Daniel Mesimer, the VA's director of WAN/LAN infrastructure engineering and provisioning solution delivery, office of information and technology, IT operations and services, in a press release. "It sets the groundwork for future capabilities of mobility networks for VA users and applications."

The VA Puget Sound Health Care System is considered a leader in teaching, research, and patient care, while earning recognition as part of the largest healthcare network in the country. It serves the needs of more than 112,000 veterans who live in 14 counties in the Pacific Northwest's Puget Sound.

In a paper that examined 5G for healthcare trends, Gartner observed that 5G and MEC "holds the potential to be transformational by enabling new healthcare delivery and business models."

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Healthcare use case potential include:

  • Mobile-to-mobile connectivity across and between medical devices, which can track people and assets within the facility.
  • Improved medical procedure and training by using emerging tech such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
  • Using AR and VR for remote and virtual pain management.
  • Surgical assistance remotely and/or near real-time surgical assistance through layering multiple surgery techniques using AR.

AT&T completed installing a 5G Distributed Antenna System (DAS) for use with Sub6 GHz spectrum and additional components that are needed to enable 5G, and its coverage extends to the newly opened Mental Health & Research Building at the Seattle-based VA facility. 

The VA system provides care for vets at 1,255 facilities, including 170 medical centers, and 1,074 outpatient sites for care of varying complexity, i.e. VHA outpatient clinics.

This year marks the 75th year of the Veterans Health Administration, which has seen ups and downs in its more than seven decades, and yet met many challenges. It was formed in 1946 to care for post-World War II veterans, even though the Veterans Administration had opened a Soldier's Home after the Civil War in 1866. They established veteran's hospitals, worked with medical schools to promote research and innovation, incorporated mental health services, allowed vets to be treated by local physicians, spearheaded innovative prosthetics, established a voluntary service, established a canteen service for low-cost goods to vets, and hired the first women doctors in VA history. 

The latest issue facing the VA is getting veterans the COVID-19 inoculation. 

 "VHA is the largest integrated health care system in the nation, overseeing the benefits and services that are provided for our nation's ill and injured veterans is so critical," said national legislative director of Disabled American Veterans, Joy Ilem, in an interview on Friday (Jan. 29).

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By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...