VA Palo Alto first 5G hospital

By Thomas Osborne, Mar 17, 2020 | Original VA Blog post here

Graphic image of doctor with various computer screens

In February, VA’s Palo Alto Health Care System became the first 5G-enabled hospital in VA, and among the first in the world.

Health Care System director and Army Veteran Thomas J. Fitzgerald III said, “With VA Palo Alto Health Care System being the first VA hospital and also one of the first hospitals in America to have 5G, we feel we are right for this. This is the right time and it’s at the right place because we are in Silicon Valley. We are ensuring VA stays relevant with cutting-edge technology for the health and well-being of our Veterans.”


“This is perhaps the most exciting and dramatic time in medical history.”

Dr. Thomas Osborne is leading the project and describes what this means for Veterans and their care. Osborne is the director of the VA National Center for Collaborative Healthcare Innovation, which is located in the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System. He described what this means for Veterans and their care.

“This is perhaps the most exciting and dramatic time in medical history. We are faced with a titanic confluence of growing health care challenges. At the same time, we are developing amazing technology that can dramatically advance care. Many of these advancements are creating a wealth of valuable data, which is an untapped resource because the traditional infrastructure is not equipped to move and analyze that valuable information efficiently.

“The next generation of digital networks provides the backbone that will help us unlock the potential to dramatically advance health care.”

From a dirt road to a superhighway

5G is the fifth generation of wireless cellular communication and offers an extraordinary infrastructure for medical advancements. Importantly, 5G allows us to move large complex data files much faster than ever before. The improved capability is like leaving a slow dirt road and getting onto an efficient superhighway.


The team celebrates shortly after establishing the first 5G signal. The device documented the 5G signal Feb. 4, 2020. From left are: Dr. Thomas Osborne, Cathy Lester, David Arreola, Arvind Maral, John Macias and Jeremy Brunton.

This opens the door to opportunities that we could only imagine before. With the addition of augmented reality tools, we have been able to turn large CT and MRI images into three-dimensional models that you can virtually hold, turn and evaluate in ways that is reminiscent of a futuristic science fiction movie.

This capability can promote unparalleled understanding of complex anatomy and disease for clinicians, students and patients.

Project an MRI image onto a patient’s body

With this technology, presurgical planning can be more intuitive and realistic. What is absolutely amazing is that this technology can project a patient’s own X-ray, CT or MRI onto their body. A clinician using the system can actually see where a problem is before making an opening in the skin. As a result, there is a potential for more efficient surgeries with less complications and smaller incisions.

This infrastructure provides many other opportunities, such as

  • improved diagnosis,
  • autonomous vehicles and
  • democratizing care to underserved areas.

We know that faster, more accurate diagnosis leads to better outcomes; therefore, it is exciting that 5G gives us the ability to transmit large data files to cutting-edge computers that can provide advanced personalized diagnosis on demand.

Autonomous vehicles using this infrastructure can help transport disabled patients and visitors around the hospital more efficiently. We can also provide care to underserved and remote areas more effectively when large amounts of communication and diagnostic information can move large distances at near real-time.

Advances have far reaching impact for Veterans

The transition to 5G for a health care system is uncharted territory. It has been empowered by forward thinking leaders, such as Dr. Ryan Vega, executive director for VHA Innovation Ecosystem. A core principal for our success is to leverage exceptional and diverse expertise in a collaborative, methodical and multi-phased approach.

We have established initial 5G capabilities for certain portions of VA Palo Alto Health Care System, but continue to be in discovery mode as to how to best apply and scale this technology more broadly across the health care system. Veteran-centric innovation is at the core of our VA mission. We recognize that we have both an opportunity and responsibility to lead the discovery and testing of solutions to improve the health care of our Veterans.

Groundbreaking collaborative partnerships like this, with leading technology companies and other innovators, are an important part of our future success. As the largest integrated health care system in the United States, these advances have the potential to have a far reaching positive impact that extends far beyond our borders.

VA Palo Alto partnered with the following companies:

  • Verizon
  • Medivis
  • Microsoft

. . . to deliver the 5G-enabled clinical care system at the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System.

Dr. Thomas Osborne is director of the VA National Center for Collaborative Healthcare Innovation at the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System.