Can You Hear Me Now?
By Dan Harvey
Radiology Today
Vol. 21 No. 6 P. 18

Emory Healthcare and Verizon team up to bring 5G to medical care.

In February, the Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare Innovation Hub officially opened its doors. The event was the culmination of Emory’s partnership with Verizon Communications Ltd. The fruit of this partnership’s labor is the first-ever 5G health care innovation lab in the United States.

Comprising numerous hospitals, clinics, and affiliated provider locations, Emory Healthcare is the most comprehensive academic health system in Georgia. Scott D. Boden, MD, vice president for business innovation for Emory, comments that the health care industry is ready for the kind of paradigm shift that the partnership represents. This includes all areas of the industry, such as patient care, user experience, and fast, unencumbered data access, among other elements.

The 5G designation comes from the technology that powers the Innovation Hub: Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service, which enhances speed and connectivity. Prior to the partnership, Emory’s innovation laboratory was designed as a commercialization program established to improve patient care and provider experience. Verizon and Emory insiders believe this application of the wideband technology will engender a significant transformation in the health care industry.

The Innovation Hub has led to the development of a new iteration of radiography that is being called the next generation of medical imaging. It also offers the possibility of easing the burden of rural, isolated medical care facilities that suffer from a shortage of health care providers; it seeks to accomplish this through improved telemedicine and remote patient monitoring. In addition, the Hub will endeavor to speed up the pace of discovery. Thus far, the partnership has enabled researchers to work on solutions such as ambulances connected with imaging technology and linked to emergency departments, remote physical therapy, and new forms of robotic-assisted surgery.

Advantages of 5G
Boden says development of Emory’s innovation hub began a little more than a year ago. The motivating factor was to foster innovation in the digital health care space. “The hub was designed to create partnerships between a large academic health system and carefully chosen global strategic partners,” Boden says. These partners shared a common interest: development of innovation that would improve efficiency, create value, and, potentially, decrease the burnout factor for health care providers­—an increasing problem, he adds.

“Right now, Verizon is one of about nine strategic partners that we have brought into the innovation hub,” Boden says. The Hub’s other strategic partners include Cerner, Konica Minolta, Merck, Novo Nordisk, Philips, Sharecare, and Stryker.

“With each partner, we work on individual partner projects,” Boden says. “Most of the partners are organizations that have envisioned potential solutions for a specific health care problem. What has prevented a solution from becoming a final, workable end product is the need to validate it, refine it, and test it in an actual health care environment.”

That’s what the Hub provides. “[The hub] makes the efficiency within Emory Healthcare and access to different parts of the health care system much more streamlined and nimbler for our corporate partners,” Boden explains. “There’s an ability to use the Hub as an intellectual development partner, as well as for a validation about the need of the development.”

This process allows for the design, testing, and implementation of actual business use cases that help justify implementation at other places around the country.

“In some cases, we have multiple corporate strategic partners working collaboratively,” Boden says. This has led to solutions such as an ambulance equipped with imaging technology, data manipulation, and transmission of that data through a secure and high-throughput system. “A project like a 5G-enabled ambulance might require several of our partners working together. That’s just one example,” he says.

Verizon offers various services and solutions—voice, data, video—within its networks and on its platforms. The company offers its customers increased mobility, network connectivity, control, and security. The partnership represents Verizon’s first extended excursion into health care.

Verizon is collaborating with Emory Healthcare and its Innovation Hub partners to help facilitate development of health care solutions with 5G technology. Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network possesses larger bandwidth, faster speeds, and lower latency than 4G. These capabilities will enable the Hub to explore augmented and virtual reality in health care, Boden says.

The partnership is part of Verizon’s broader strategy to further increase its horizons, as it seeks to engage with customers, universities, and large enterprises to explore how 5G can transform a variety of industries. Currently, Verizon operates five 5G Labs in the United States and one in London. Verizon and Emory Health both believe that 5G Ultra Wideband can have a substantial impact on health care. The two companies chose the Emory Healthcare space for opening the first 5G-focused innovation, according to Boden, who was directly involved.

“Essentially, it is a development laboratory that is wired with 5G development technology, which makes this a unique colocalization connected to an academic health care delivery system,” he says. “It is a user-insight, user-experience hub.”

Productive Partnerships
For the February 2020 opening, the project needed the sign-off from the CEO of Emory Healthcare and some of Emory University’s executive leadership, Boden says. That framework—including Boden’s role as strategic executive sponsor—provided Emory the ability to develop individual relationships with its strategic partners. The partners form an organization called 11/TEN Innovation Partners.

Any of the 11/TEN Innovation Partners can access the laboratory to cocreate solutions that require 5G capabilities, such as testing. “The lab also includes some software developers and coders, and our project and management teams for Emory Healthcare Innovation Hub,” Boden says.

This access fosters demand-driven innovation. The organization has even trademarked the phrase as its approach: 11/TEN’s Demand-Driven Innovation. Its approach reduces innovation risk and substantially changes how end users interact with products and services to enhance user experience and foster positive developments. 11/TEN Innovation Partners was created outside of Emory but essentially manages Emory’s relationship with its partners.

“It allows us, within a set of ground rules, to be able to easily engage corporate partners without some of the red tape that you can sometimes find in a large university or academic medical center,” Boden says. “The ground rules are the guide rails, or the guiding principles, established by me and my team. These were approved by the normal Emory governing system. It makes engaging with individual partners rather easy.”

Boden says the Emory Innovation Hub was the catalyst for 11/TEN development. The Hub will eventually have work and clients in this space besides Emory, he adds, but it allows Emory to access expertise that can be scaled up or down based on the need and growth curve of the Hub.

“When we started this, we determined we had the need for a minimum of three partners in the program,” Boden says. “As it turned out, in the first year, we were up to eight or nine, which was close to the number we wanted in an ideal circumstance.”

He says the guiding framework also includes all the legal standards and templates, which improves efficiency for interaction in the health care system. As such, 11/TEN Innovation Partners employs ecosystems to increase efficiency.

“We’re trying to make a user-friendly ecosystem for people that need a health care environment to help them optimally develop solutions that will be used in the health care environment,” Boden says.

During the past 10 years, few digital electronic solutions have been developed side by side with the people who are using them. “That has made some of the electronic medical records and other things cumbersome and not really integrated into the workflow,” Boden says.

For that reason, not everyone is making full use of technology because it is extremely challenging to integrate it into clinical workflow, Boden says. “We are trying to break down a lot of those barriers, make things nimbler and more efficient, and create a choice destination for digital health care innovation,” he adds.

Radiography Reimagined
The Innovation Hub and its partners will continue exploring ways to translate new concepts into useable inventions that have been tested and validated. 11/TEN reports that a number of new technology innovations have been coming to market in rapid succession, and this had led to a new exploration of imaging technology.

“We have many projects that are just starting to get going because this is still a relatively new program,” Boden says. “We’ve been working with some of the partners in the early stages, developing scope of work plans and analysis and starting to work through the projects to get them started, even as we speak.”

For example, 5G capability is allowing researchers to do things such as create holographic 3D anatomical renderings that can be studied from every angle and even projected onto the body in the operating room to help guide surgery. This will enable physicians to better view how the body moves.

Another area that shows potential is something Boden refers to as next-phase medical imaging. New imaging technology has enabled physicians to make diagnoses that they weren’t able to make before, and, combined with AI, it will enable partners to expand diagnostic capabilities.

“For instance, we’re working on a project with one of our partners related to dynamic digital radiography, where, instead of taking a single view in a flex position, we will have the ability to have a short, low-dose movie that shows how the body gets from position A to position B,” Boden explains. “We believe this has great potential to help us make diagnoses for parts of the body that have abnormalities, such as the spine or kneecap, or other musculoskeletal conditions that would allow us to make diagnoses that are very hard, if not impossible, to make today with conventional X-ray technology.”

Ultimately, digital dynamic radiography has the potential to be used as a tool in other areas as well, such as pulmonary assessment.

“It will make for holographic or 3D volumetric renderings—although we already have the ability to do that with 3D imaging of MRI or CT scans—using augmented reality and virtual reality and tying them into surgical procedures,” Boden says. “But that is a sort of different facet. It has existed for a while. Now, the ability to get that kind of 3D processing close to where you are, without using some sort of large supercomputer, is an example of how 5G computing can potentially make real-time virtual reality much easier, because that kind of work can now be done with edge computing.

 “Dynamic digital radiography is more of a variation of conventional radiography, not necessarily three-dimensional,” he continues. “But we will begin to see how different parts of the body and organs are moving and be able to make diagnoses related to abnormal movement patterns, as opposed to static positions.”

— Dan Harvey is a freelance writer based in Wilmington, Delaware.