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Episode 72: University of Virginia enhances patient care with FirstNet


July 27, 2023
The University of Virginia (UVA) Health system uses nearly 4,000 mobile devices, powered by FirstNet, to enhance care for patients. The leader of UVA Health’s Mobile Device Technologies program, Anthony Thompson, discusses the impact of FirstNet in healthcare and how it’s supporting telemedicine capabilities, translation services, and rural healthcare.


Lori Stone, FirstNet Authority Senior Public Safety Advisor  

Anthony Thompson, SE at UVA Health System



Episode 72| University of Virginia enhances patient care with FirstNet 

LORI STONE: Welcome to the Public Safety First podcast! My name is Lori Stone, and I’m a Senior Public Safety Advisor with the First Responder Network Authority. I was recently joined by Anthony Thompson of UVA Health for a conversation about FirstNet in a healthcare setting. Anthony leads the hospital’s Mobile Device Technologies program, and he shares the innovative ways that healthcare professionals are using broadband to improve patient care and public safety. And now, the episode.

Episode 72| University of Virginia enhances patient care with FirstNet 

LORI STONE: Welcome to the Public Safety First podcast! My name is Lori Stone, and I’m a Senior Public Safety Advisor with the First Responder Network Authority. I was recently joined by Anthony Thompson of UVA Health for a conversation about FirstNet in a healthcare setting. Anthony leads the hospital’s Mobile Device Technologies program, and he shares the innovative ways that healthcare professionals are using broadband to improve patient care and public safety. And now, the episode.

NARRATOR: You're listening to Public Safety First, a podcast to help you learn about the First Responder Network Authority and how you can be part of the future of public safety technology. And now, your host.

LORI STONE: I'd like to learn more about you and what your role is at UVA Health and what do you do?

ANTHONY THOMPSON: So, when I started at the hospital, I was working with the server group and engineering and that kind of thing. And my administrator came to me and said, you know, this mobile device thing, there's a lot of people bringing phones in these days. And I've got this Gartner study, and would you take a look at it and pick a MDM? And I had no idea what MDM stood for, had no clue, looked over the Gartner survey and MobileIron was, at the time, number one in that sector. So, I suggested to him, after everything I read, we go with that. And that was 2008.

And so, we piloted MobileIron, and liked it, and went forward with it. And that kind of moved me into a situation of responsibility for all the mobile devices at UVA Health, UVA Medical Center at the time, and just working with that and seeing the growth and the potential, something clicked in me, and I was able to have this more of a visionary look with mobile and see where we're going and seeing the needs of the hospital and what was coming next. And as a user, as a consumer of the product, I always want to gear things towards the end user, you know, with the aspect of security and protection of our intellectual property and patient information here. But I also want the experience to be what I would want it to be for mobile technology. And so, that's been real successful. We have around 11,000 mobile devices were managing now here at UVA Health.

So, my team has gone from me, back in the day, to five of us now for mobile device technology and we do application support, we do our own application distribution. We're doing lookout now that's through security, through FirstNet. We piloted that with MobileIron and FirstNet, and that's tremendously helpful. So yeah, we're just going full force with it all. I think having our group there for the pandemic, was key and critical to the ability for the hospital to continue doing its work as usual. Things changed a lot during that. We switched to FirstNet. Decided that a different approach to our carrier would be good for us. We demoed a few and settled with FirstNet. We're now up to getting close to 4,000 FirstNet devices in our system and that's growing.  

LORI STONE: That was a really comprehensive history. You said you demoed a few and you made the decision. What was a key consideration or a key factor in that choice?

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Well, we were we were coming off one cellular technology and we definitely wanted to go to the more worldly acceptable technology. So, that was a factor. The support structure that we were seeing, the demo and everything, it was just world class. It stood out among everybody else and was what we were looking for. We're a very needy organization. We're an academic hospital. So, we have a lot of things that we need from our vendors and especially our phone carriers. And the other folks just weren't able to provide that. We had a checklist of things we were looking for, and one column got filled quickly with FirstNet and the other just didn't keep up with it. So, we made that decision. We've been in situations in Charlottesville where having a priority on the network is critical for us. I remember back in the day we had a U2 concert at our football stadium, and I went to that show, and could not use my phone at all. It was just impossible. Today, I'm confident that if we had that same situation, all the UVA employees that are first responders would be able to do so. So, that's critical for us. You know, Charlottesville has been in the news for other things where we've had stress on our cellular technology here. So, for a hospital right in the heart of Charlottesville, that is critical for us to have the security knowing that we have a network that's going to be there and do what we need it to do.

LORI STONE: I like your example of a U2 concert and football games at UVA. Regular visits from dignitaries, high profile world leaders, and just the daily in and out of people in that area. It can stress a cellular system and what you said about, FirstNet checking the boxes, meeting your needs. And everybody wants to feel that they're supported. And it sounds like you're finding that that support from the AT&T customer service. Happy to hear that. Tell me a little bit about using mobile devices in the hospital. You mentioned tablets during COVID. What else are doctors and health care workers using today?

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Our medical records, like the majority of hospitals across the country, are managed by the Epic System. So, we have mobile apps for Epic that we use internally and externally, but we have situations where nurses will just use a phone to access the medical record system or an iPad. It's the exact same system that they're using on their PCs and the actual point of care situation. But doctors and nurses, they can access this from anywhere. And, with this network in the background, we don't worry about where they are and if they're going to have network service. Prioritization is there for them.

But yeah, the iPads, when we were isolating COVID patients, that room, that patient would get an iPad assigned to them that would have communication features on it. And the nurse would have almost like a walkie talkie situation. They would have an identical set up on the outside and they could service them. We probably put 500 iPads in service during the pandemic to support that kind of thing.

Now we're redeploying them for other things. We're using them for translation services. and we pull up an interpreter on the iPad and can put that in front of somebody. We have wide-ranging language challenges with our patients around in Charlottesville. We are very diverse. And with this technology, we can not have to provide a human from our payroll to fulfill every language that we come across. And there's about 100 probably that that we deal with. It's pretty amazing. So, that itself, on the phones, if the nurse needs it, they have it on there and anywhere they're at, they could walk out of a building and be in a situation where they could use that service, where there's the medical records, or the translation, or wide range of other apps that the doctors and nurses’ use. And so, we don't worry about when they walk out of our property on to the cellular network because there’s seamless transition between the two, and we've tested that vigorously, and we have no problem walking between the two technologies. So, it's very complementary to each other.

LORI STONE: You mentioned the seamless transition. What about the security of that? Talk a little about the security aspects of the network and what you were looking for.

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Yeah, well, we are very hardcore on our security on the inside of our hospital. Most vendors we try to get them to put their systems on the inside. So, when that device is transitioning outside of our network or land network, we're very concerned with that. So, we want to be on a network that that has the security's that we require on the inside as well as the outside. So, that was another push to move to FirstNet, just for that. Just the all-around comfort that we have, knowing that we're secure on all aspects.

LORI STONE: When you were talking about how the health care workers could access the medical records anywhere that they go. Have you heard of any real-life examples? We know it's possible, but have you heard of anybody actually doing that from, you know, another part of the United States or even another part of the world?

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Oh, yeah. Very often. We take advantage of the international data plans that we have through AT&T FirstNet. At any given time, we have 100 or 200 folks out there doing work. And even when a physician is on vacation somewhere, or in a conference somewhere, he or she still has to monitor their patients. So, the ability for them just to open up their phone when they get a text message about a patient or something and just take care of it right there is just priceless. So yeah, they're using it all over the place, all over the country. All over the world.

LORI STONE: What about telemedicine? Any use about that?

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Oh yeah. We've got a vast, very large telemedicine deployment, and several hundred iPads have gone out depending on the need of the individual. When you register as a patient, you get an iPad for that term of care. And those are all FirstNet iPads. So, yeah, they go out and they communicate back and forth daily with the doctors from their homes or from wherever. And we chose the FirstNet iPads because you can't always expect someone to have Internet at the house. So, to be able to send them home with a FirstNet iPad and not worry about having to get them connected or teach them how to connect the device to their Wi-Fi or whatever the situation. Just turn it on and it works. It was huge for us.

LORI STONE: And you're able to replicate that, in the home setting or anywhere in the world, it sounds like.

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Yeah. Our goal is, when you pick up a mobile device from us, iPad, iPhone or whatever it is in the office and you walk out the door, I don't want you to notice any difference at all in behavior of the technology. I want it to work exactly like it does in here. And I'd say we're pretty successful doing that. For me, personally as a user, I love it. I never worry about where I'm at and not being able to connect to things. It just works. Like flipping the light switch on the wall, you don't think about why, you just want the light on. So, I don't want users worrying about, why this doesn't work and it's great that it does.

LORI STONE: What kind of collaboration might you have then with any local public safety agencies? I know EMS is always bringing patients to your door, are any of them using FirstNet. Are you sharing any information back and forth on this network?

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Yeah, I mean, obviously a hospital our size, we have our own medical network for that, or EMS support. But we have all them on FirstNet, from our helicopter folks to the ambulances, and all those core folks, they use FirstNet iPads in the field. Our police department here, we have the university police department, and we have Charlottesville City Police Department. They are on FirstNet and they were on, I believe, before we were. So, now that we're all on the same page as far as cellular technology and network, it definitely works better for us. I feel like we all speak the same language now.

LORI STONE: Now, we met at the CRD, the compact rapid deployable exercise, where you came out to James River State Park. A really remote area in Virginia. And you were able to see some of the cutting-edge advanced technology What do you think about, just the advances that FirstNet has been making over the last few years?

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Yeah, I was blown away by that because like you said, James River Park is a complete dead zone for everybody. There is no service. And then when they fired up the equipment, I had full coverage. I was streaming videos and doing work back at home right there on the picnic table. I came back from that meeting and shared everything I learned with management and they were pretty excited about it. There's an outreach event that we do every year in West Virginia, a community outreach. And the big challenge is network technology. When we get out there, there's very little cell signal and we have to build a network when we're down there, and we end up running miles of cable to do so. So, if we could roll one of those carts in there, fire it up and have instant network access, you know, within ten, fifteen minutes where before it would take an extra day, getting there to set things up that would be huge. So, it's an invaluable technology and I'm excited to see where it's going.

LORI STONE: I hadn't thought about hospitals that do something like that, go to a rural area, provide those services, and then have to build their own network depending on where they are. I love that when we talked a little bit about hospital use of FirstNet, I always thought it was in the building, and you just opened my eyes to a really great use case. What would you say then to other hospitals, why they should be using this network?

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Well, we've acquired a few hospitals in the Northern Virginia area, and what I told them is basically what I've seen myself. You've got great support, you've got great technology. You've got a great backbone for all this. But it's the other key things that are there behind the scenes you don’t think about. This network is going to be there, and I'm confident of that. Pricing, I mean, they can't beat some of the pricing that FirstNet offers. So, I definitely would have you look deeper at the program. You're not just looking at AT&T, you're looking at AT&T FirstNet and that's a big, big difference. One is great, but the other added things that you can give to a hospital and to first responders. You can't afford not to do this. We sleep better at night knowing that we're using this technology. And for our patients, that's critical. It's just there when you need it.

LORI STONE: What are some of the next steps or next advances you want to see this network take.

ANTHONY THOMPSON: Some folks are skeptical about mobile devices. I'm ready for us to be over that hump and just realize how powerful these things are that we're carrying around with us and what they can do and how they can help us achieve our goals and everything that we're looking for. But I'm really excited from what we learned out at James River that day. if we have that kind of technology in our ambulances and our mobile care machines, that would just save so much trouble.

LORI STONE: Yeah, it comes down to connectivity and where you need it, when you need it. I think we've covered almost everything. You’ve been wonderful. Thank you, Anthony.

NARRATOR: Thanks for listening today. We're excited to have you join our podcast community. Make sure to subscribe  on iTunes, SoundCloud, and YouTube. You can learn more about the First Responder Network Authority at and learn about FirstNet products and services at