Private 5G gets the nod from Cleveland Clinic for cost savings, improved care

Cleveland Clinic CIO Matthew Kull did not need to be sold on the idea of a private 5G network when planning the healthcare system’s newest facility in Mentor, Ohio. He said he wanted to limit the “overbearing expense” of structured cabling and the associated network stack, and he hopes to enable patient monitoring applications that can work in both hospital and home settings.

“I think the use cases frankly are pretty limitless,” he said. Some of those will be new applications, and others will be adaptations of what providers are already doing over Wi-Fi or Ethernet. “In thinking through ways we could potentially be more efficient, as-a-service 5G started looking good," said Kull. He sees Mentor Hospital’s Verizon private 5G network as a testbed for 5G-enabled use cases at the clinic’s other facilities.

Mentor Hospital is set to open July 11 with 34 beds and is also expected to serve a large number of ambulatory outpatients. As more and more patients start to walk in with 5G phones, the network’s potential use cases will multiply. Kull envisions applications that use animation to show patients how to do physical therapy at home and leverage the phone’s camera to record and monitor their progress. He also expects makers of medical monitoring equipment for the home to start adding 5G chips to their devices in the near future.

Cleveland Clinic subscribes to third-party applications that enhance patient care, and also develops its own. “We have an innovation group that makes investments into tech startups,” Kull said. In addition to remote monitoring of patients, the group is focused on predictive diagnoses based on analysis of collected patient data. Kull said the private 5G network will significantly expand opportunities for this group. “We are no longer tethering innovation to geographic boundaries,” he explained.

Smartphones will be able to connect to the Verizon private network if they are provisioned for the operator’s LTE or 5G network and potentially download apps that can be used outside the hospital. Patients and visitors will be able to connect inside the hospital if they are customers of Verizon, one of its prepaid brands, or one of its MVNO or roaming partners. SIM card provisioning will enable select devices to connect to the onsite core, an Ericsson LTE EPC.

Kull said all hospital doctors and nurses carry Verizon iPhones and will be able to connect to the private network radios. But when the hospital opens, most of the devices that initially connect to the private 5G core will be hospital equipment: check-in kiosks and in-room HD infotainment systems. 

“You don’t necessarily need a 5G network for those,” said Verizon’s Jennifer Artley, SVP for 5G acceleration. She sees the private 5G network as a foundation for innovation and application development. “The entire ecosystem drives better patient outcomes,” she explained. “There is a lot that can be done; it’s going to take some time to make it all real.”

An important future use case for the 5G network will be asset tracking, Artley predicted. She expects healthcare equipment makers to start embedding 5G chips into machines that are now wheeled from room to room and plugged into walls. In addition to allowing staff to locate machines quickly, this will enable healthcare providers to monitor the output from these machines in real-time and eventually to analyze the data using apps that leverage artificial intelligence (AI).

“The ability to use and harness AI for automation is really at a tipping point,” agreed Kull. And it’s not just for monitoring the health of machines.

“Our mobile stroke unit can benefit from this,” predicted Kull. “Those decisions have to be fast.  We need to keep that compute as close to the connectivity as possible. Those milliseconds of latency matter.”

C-Band plus mmWave

Artley said Verizon used a combination of C-Band and mmWave spectrum for the clinic’s 5G network, and is deploying Ericsson LTE and 5G radios, as well as mmWave radios made by Corning. 

Verizon-certified 4G/5G jetpacks and routers can also connect to the network. These can function as Wi-Fi or fixed wireless hotspots, using the private 5G network rather than Ethernet for backhaul. 

Greenfield builds offer the best private network opportunities in the healthcare industry, Artley noted. She said a similar greenfield project is planned in California, where UC Davis is building a large "hospital of the future" in the Sacramento region.