But, working in the world of telemedicine, I am working in rocket science, as NASA was one of the first organizations to create “links” from their rockets and space shuttles to their mission control in Houston. They developed many of the technologies used in current day telemedicine many years ago…and they are still helping to generate new ideas in this market sector today. Read on to learn more.
As for the astronaut thing, after a few rides on the “whirly bird” at the state fair, you will know why I will never go into space! I like the ground, the stationary feel underneath my feet, way too much!
Imagine you are in a rural area and fall ill. You are just over 200 miles away from the nearest doctor. What do you do? You could drive if you felt well enough, or if it was an emergency you may call 911 for an ambulance or a helicopter to rush you to the hospital. Now imagine that those 200 miles between you and the doctor are straight down, because you are an astronaut in low earth orbit.
This is the position NASA found themselves in back in the 1960’s at the dawn of manned space flight. In fact, before they sent people into space, they had to develop a way to send biometric data back from animals in orbit to assess how their circulatory and respiratory systems would work without gravity. This technology was later put to use to monitor the astronauts themselves while in orbit.
Fast forward to 2035, the year in which Matt Damon’s character Mark Watney is stranded on Mars in the new film The Martian. Even though it’s a fictional account, the ability to communicate data like the biometric data Matt Damon’s character transmits back to NASA is very real. In fact, it only takes from 4 to 21 minutes to send data back depending on the relative position of Earth and Mars in their orbits. The Mars rovers currently transmit data regarding their Mars explorations back to earth. It’s a sophisticated relay that starts with the Mars rovers transmitting to the Mars orbiters during an 8 minute window each day as they pass overhead, and then the orbiters relay the data back to earth at a much faster data rate than the rovers themselves can achieve.
Today, in the year 2016, a year firmly planted somewhere in between the history and the fiction referenced above, NASA is using video teleconferencing to connect doctors on earth to astronauts in orbit on the International Space Station. They have continually improved their systems to address the challenges of latency and data loss that a wireless transmission of this great distance can be subject to. They use their systems to provide real time access to doctors as well as to allow the astronauts to see and talk to their families and to educate students who want to learn about life in space.
Given their history of innovation in this space (no pun intended) it is no surprise that NASA is not content to stop at video alone and is continuing to push the envelope.
“The focus of current agency efforts have expanded beyond the original mandate of telemetry and remote communication to encompass new “smart medical systems” that are designed not simply to communicate and diagnose ill astronauts—but also to provide physicians on the ground with the ability to remotely provide limited treatment options.”
NASA has also worked with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute and a key member of that association, Baylor College of Medicine, to develop advanced ultrasound technology to not only accurately diagnose things like illness and potential bone loss, but they also have the ability to focus and aim the ultrasound in a way that it can even stop internal bleeding in an emergency.
As you can probably imagine, these innovations can all have implications terrestrially as well, meaning that comprehensive remote treatments on Earth are probably not that far away.
Telemedicine will soon enable physicians to perform initial diagnosis, verify that diagnosis with physical patient data collected by remote diagnostic equipment including sensors, perform remote monitoring during treatment and recovery, and finally deliver after care and follow up.
So although telemedicine may have started as rocket science, today it is making remote care incredibly efficient and easy, not only in space, but also right here on Earth. Thank you NASA.
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About Bob Higginbotham
Bob Higginbotham, CTS-I, CTS-D, is the Avidex National Manager of Healthcare AV. Bob has spent his 30 year career in leadership positions in the AV industry including extensive design and build work in healthcare facilities. He owned and operated a successful AV business in Texas with multiple offices in several cities where he managed a staff of over 100 employees. Bob has served as a technical consultant for a major AV manufacturer, led the technical sales team for a national video conferencing provider and provided technology auditing services for several private education facilities. He has a unique working knowledge of audiovisual technology as well as multiple certifications in audio engineering, acoustics, AV design, CQT system commissioning and video transmission systems. Bob holds a BA in communications and has recently served as board chair for a large private school. He brings his years of technical knowledge and leadership experience to Avidex where he leads the national healthcare AV team. Contact Bob at email@example.com