The partners involved in the first European pilot project for telemedicine via satellite met on 17 November in the Celio Military Polyclinic in Rome, to take stock of the first results of the joint effort that, for over a year, has put hospitals in Italy and Bosnia in close contact with each other thanks to space applications.
In September 1996, with the help of the European Space Agency, an innovative telemedicine network was activated to provide medical care services to the Italian Field Hospital involved in the peacekeeping mission in Sarajevo and to give further support to the health care structure of the University Clinical Centre of Sarajevo. Two Italian hospitals were at the same time linked with Sarajevo: the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan and Celio Military Polyclinic in Rome.
The initiative, dubbed SHARED for Satellite Health Access for Remote Environment Demonstrator, exploited dedicated ground stations and satellite links to conduct medical consultations, online surgery mentoring and medical training between the three hospitals.
After a year of successful operation with Sarajevo, the network, which uses ground terminals and satellite capacity provided by ESA, is now being extended to include the Hospital "IDI" in Tirana.
Based on an enhanced version of the DICE multipoint videoconference system developed by European industry for ESA, the telemedicine satellite network combines videoconferencing with real-time data exchange between multimedia computers and medical peripherals of medical images such as X-rays, scans, pictures of pathology samples etc. An additional feature is provided by an ISDN multipoint conference unit acting as a bridge between the satellite network and other hospitals connected to the terrestrial ISDN network.
The links between the hospitals are supported by up to four digital carriers of 384 kbit/s using capacity leased by ESA on the Eutelsat II-F4 satellite.
"We are very proud of having contributed to such a humanitarian project that helps bring space within closer reach of human beings in their everyday life" said ESA Director General Antonio Rodotà, who attended the presentation of the first results of the SHARED project in Rome.
The SHARED project stems from co-operation between ESA, which has provided the communication infrastructure, the Italian Space Agency ASI, which has funded the pilot projects, through ESA's ARTES programme, the Italian Ministry of Defense, which has the operational responsibility for the system, and TelBios, a consortium between the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan and Alenia Aerospazio, Rome, which proposed and have coordinated the project.