ESA helps establish emergency medical service in Canada’s remote communities
7 December 2000
Good health and a good education are arguably the two most important things in life - and the European Space Agency is helping to bring together those vital ingredients for people in the remotest parts of Canada, with a million dollar investment in a ground-breaking Multimedia satellite project.
The Remote Communities Services Telecentre (RCST) project, is being run by satellite operator, Telesat and comes under ESA’s ARTES 3 Multimedia initiative.
The project has been operating since 1998 linking a number of rural ‘telecentres’ in Labrador and Newfoundland with others in more populated areas. These centres have been providing integrated tele-learning and tele-health facilities via broadband satellite links, such as high-speed internet access, video-conferencing and digital imaging.
The RCST project has proven invaluable in the field of health care. A doctor using the system in a remote telecentre in Port aux Basques on the western edge of New Foundland can, for example, transmit images of a patient’s condition to a specialist in St John’s more than 450 kilometres away.
By examining the images on a monitor the specialist can then diagnose the condition and either prescribe treatment or request a personal visit. In this respect the satellite system saves patients the inconvenience and cost of travelling substantial distances for standard consultations.
Initially focusing on new ways to integrate health, education and information services for small businesses and government agencies, the RCST project has taken a new turn with the introduction of the Integrated Emergency Medicine Network (IEMN), a system that provides crisis medical care for patients during ambulance transit.
Now, the new IEMN system has further implications for the development of emergency health care in remote areas. Ambulances, including the airborne variety are fitted out with mobile satellite voice and data service (MSAT) - in this case supplied by TMI Communications. These special ambulances allow doctors to monitor the vital signs of patients in transit and better prepare for their arrival. Better preparation means faster treatment and more lives saved.
Telesat’s senior specialist in applications and networks, Abdul Lakhani, believes the IEMN system has huge potential.
“When connected to a portable telemedicine satellite terminal, the IEMN could also save lives in the event of floods, fires, avalanches, or other disasters,” he explained.
“Given the frequency of environmental disasters worldwide, a system that offers victims a better chance of survival stands to have global appeal and we are working with ESA to see how we can use satellite technology and bring solutions such as this to the marketplace,” said Mr Lakhani.
Less time spent in waiting rooms
Many visits to doctors and hospitals are for routine checkups or just to collect a repeat prescription. With eHealth many of these services could be done or requested from home.
Household electronic equipment, such as phones, televisions, remote controls and computers, can be used to take and transmit data such as temperature, blood pressure and sugar level to a central medical centre for examination and checking against existing health records. For instance some mobile phones already have electrodes on the back enabling them to be used as an electrocardiogram. Prescriptions could also be sent electronically to local pharmacists ready for immediate collection.
Imagine the time saved and the queues avoided. Even more important, by cutting down on the number of routine visits and the paperwork that has become the bane of modern medicine, more time, money and resources could be dedicated to helping the seriously ill.
Helping the old and the infirm
For the old and the disabled visiting the doctor is not just time consuming, it can also be extremely difficult. eHealth can help this section of society - and those who care for them - by enabling patients to transmit health data without having to leave their home. Specialist medical centres, with electronic access to patients’ medical records, will then immediately check the data and ensure that all is well.
Patients intimidated by electronic equipment can be personally guided through the different steps by phone or through monitors. This will ensure that the service is ‘user friendly’ and could offer more frequent contact with patients unable to leave their homes.
Intensive care for those who need it
Centralisation of records plus remote access to health data will ensure the best use of limited resources such as intensive care units. On occasion patients are transferred to these units unnecessarily as doctors are unable to check all existing medical records before admitting a patient to hospital. With eHealth, all hospitals with intensive care units within a certain area can be grouped together and share remote access to patients’ data. In this way beds in intensive care units wwould be given to those most in need.
Medical care wherever you are
Even when away from home, on holiday or on business, it will still be possible to be treated by your local doctor by using communications technology. In cases of severe illness requiring hospital attention, medical records can be transferred immediately to the hospital responsible for carrying out treatment to enable them to check on previous treatment and medication.
Prevention better than cure
Telecommunications are a good way of promoting health care. There are already many websites that help people to lose excess weight, which is a contributing factor in many serious illnesses. On these sites visitors can log in daily to record their weight and receive support, advice and encouragement. These, and similar services, can make an important contribution to preventing illness and reducing the cost of health care.
eHealth clearly benefits people and health care services, and indeed some of the above measures have already been put into practice. However, before these measures can be expanded to cover the whole of Europe some issues need to be resolved. These include: ensuring the privacy of digitally stored health data; facilitating and protecting the electronic exchange of health records; and harmonising health care services within Europe while respecting different cultures and systems. Over the next 18 months the Telemedicine Alliance, headed by ESA, will be looking into ways to resolve these problems.
For more information contact:
ESA, Head of Life Science Unit
ISS Utilisation and Promotion Division
Human Spaceflight, Microgravity & Exploration