Tracking health in Space: Telemedicine

Tracking health in Space: Telemedicine

Long-term space missions in extreme environmental conditions underline the importance of telemedicine as a necessary means to provide medical support even at several hundred kilometres from Earth. Telemedicine is the combination of two words: “Tele” meaning “distance” and “Medicine” meaning “to heal”, also defined by Time Magazine “healing by wire”. The ongoing development of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics play a key role in overcoming the limitations of present methods. Currently, astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) are supported by the medical team at the space health centre, transmitting data from local sensors via satellite with a secure connection. The European Space Agency (ESA) is developing new technological solutions to improve telemedicine tools and one of the major challenges is the restricted size and weight of the equipment permitted during the spaceflight.

Medical Engineer from the European Space Research and Technology Centre (European Space Agency, ESA), Arnaud Runge, reported on ESA’s ongoing projects including an innovative compact ‘Point of Care devices (POC)’. It allows to obtain several biological data by analysing a sample of blood, underlining the technological progress in the field of medicine, engineering and space. Another example concerns a “robotic tele-ultrasound system” to benefit from the ultrasound diagnostic approach which is a non-invasive and non-ionizing technique, but operator dependent. The technology that ESA is developing allows the manipulation of the ultrasonic probe remotely by the medical expert. In this way, it is possible to perform ultrasound examinations of astronauts by means of a very compact technology driven by Earth.

Space technologies, e.g. communication via satellites, can contribute to improve telemedicine applications on Earth, such as the possibility of data transmission by means of remote connectivity to contact physicians, wherever located, and help the patient and paramedical onsite.
In addition, telemedicine could play a key role in critical scenarios, such as global pandemics (e.g., COVID-19) and faraway and underdeveloped geographic areas, by solving mobility problems of caregivers and patients who cannot easily reach health centres.



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