The Veterans Health Administration of the Veterans Affairs Department and Verizon have collaborated in testing and developing 5G drones and mobile edge computing or MEC technologies to improve the safety of medical facilities and patients.
The pilot will be conducted at the National Center for Collaborative Healthcare Innovation (NCCHI), a center established within California’s VA Palo Alto Health Care System to leverage Silicon Valley’s innovative capabilities to support veterans.
dr Thomas Osborne – NCCHI Director and Chief Medical Informatics Officer at VA Palo Alto – narrated next gov that ongoing work aligns with the center’s focus on “creating the healthcare system of the future,” and that VA Palo Alto was one of the world’s first 5G-enabled hospitals.
“Part of building the healthcare system of the future is to just lean forward to put VA in the driver’s seat and provide the best care no matter the challenges,” Osborne said.
Work on the pilot began in April, and Osborne said much of the effort so far has been holding brainstorming sessions and “outlining protocols and standard operating procedures,” with input provided by VA Palo Alto leadership and VA Police Services . Some of the police officers and hospital system staff have also completed courses and tests to become Federal Aviation Administration-certified drone operators, and VA Palo Alto continues to work with its partners and the FAA to ensure the initiative progresses appropriately.
“We’ve already started work on simulated contingency scenarios and tests, and we’re iterating and planning these so we’re best prepared if something happens,” added Osborne.
He said the deployment of 5G-enabled drones and MEC technologies will give VA Palo Alto a better ability to respond to emergencies, locate missing patients, and conduct routine inspections and maintenance of hospital infrastructure.
“The thoughtful integration of advanced drones with 5G and MEC technology has the potential to significantly improve emergency response times,” Osborne said. “Just as an example, you can instantly launch an advanced drone that will give you a bird’s-eye view and live-streaming high-fidelity video of an emergency scene, and then securely transmit it to personnel on the ground and at a command center so that they can Have real-time situational awareness.”
VA Palo Alto is still going through the sourcing process to acquire additional drones and tech, including so-called “blue drones” certified by the federal government as safe to operate and free of components from banned or restricted countries. And the NCCHI and VA Palo Alto teams continue to design and test different scenarios where the 5G drones and MEC technologies could prove useful.
“The more we use these systems, the more use cases come to mind,” Osborne said. “Some of them we didn’t consider initially, but are now investigating, such as B. Drones that can deliver emergency care in difficult situations, such as Narcan – a drug used in drug overdoses – or other field medicine devices. If you don’t have it with you, you can get a drone that will shorten the distance.”
He added that there are a number of regulatory challenges and compliance requirements the hospital system has yet to address — for example, for the FAA — but that working with its partners, including Verizon, helps smooth the process.
In a press release, Verizon highlighted how the ongoing collaboration with VA Palo Alto and NCCHI “will help hospital staff better assess critical needs and the facility’s infrastructure.”
“Our combined 5G MEC and drone partnership with the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Healthcare System is the next step in the VA’s journey to innovation and demonstrates how other federal agencies can leverage next-generation technologies to improve the way they serve their constituents.” Maggie Hallbach, Verizon’s senior vice president of public sector, said in a statement.