Millions of people around the world live far from the nearest clinic or hospital. Often, there is no doctor nearby. One way of overcoming the distance gap is to use telemedicine. This relies on satellites to provide a two-way voice/video link between a patient and a medical expert.
The first large-scale use of telemedicine took place during the 1988 earthquake disaster in Armenia. With the normal phone lines out of action, satellite links were used for emergency medical help.
In the 1990's, ESA set up the first telemedicine test in space. During a 10-day Spacelab mission, doctors could study images of an astronaut's heart and send back instructions.
Telemedicine is now widespread. It enables patients in remote, rural areas to contact doctors and nurses. It also allows patients to receive improved home care.
ESA is a major supporter of telemedicine. For example, ESA is funding research into robots that can be controlled from a distance by a medical expert.
Such robots may be used to conduct surgical operations or move a scanner across the patient's body to obtain 3-D images of the internal organs.