Behind the Scenes: The broadband network supporting COVID-19 response in Ohio

By Christopher Kyer

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation last year, thousands of hospitals, healthcare facilities and doctor’s offices were inundated with patients needing to be tested, receive treatment or both. Many healthcare systems hit max capacity in their intensive care units, hospitals were forced to turn patients away to other healthcare facilities. The increased demand for care left many medical professionals faced with a new set of challenges, including the complexities of technology and communications in rural areas.

Within just a few days, my organization, Kettering Health Network, quickly adapted to the demand for testing and adjusted our structure to create mobile testing sites that could see patients and quickly get them their results, especially in rural Ohio. We set up these sites using FirstNet, the nationwide broadband network dedicated to first responders. The reliability, security, and interoperability we received allowed for functionality at mobile testing sites throughout the state.

As the pandemic continued, we found new ways to use the expanded abilities FirstNet gives us to enhance our services. When COVID-19 vaccines became available, we began vaccination efforts at our Kettering Physician Network sites. While these sites are in more traditional clinic settings with access to traditional internet connections, you can bet that we had our FirstNet devices at the ready should we have any interruption in services.

While our vaccination efforts are ongoing, the Kettering Health Network EMS team is preparing for what we call “event season.” During event season, we service the community by providing medical services on-site at large venue sporting or entertainment events. At these events, we plan to use our FirstNet devices to provide new capabilities that we previously were unable to access with platforms like Electronic Health Records.

From what I’ve seen, I believe FirstNet provides an entirely new reality for future crisis response in Ohio beyond COVID-19. Services that once were only able to be done inside hospital walls can now be done remotely. Patients no longer have to visit a doctor’s office for a regular check-up, X-ray, CT scan or MRI. I do believe that FirstNet technology increases patients’ access to healthcare services by allowing the doctor to go to the patient, providing care to thousands of people who can’t travel to their healthcare provider. Simply put, FirstNet is the future of healthcare communication technology.