Providers across the healthcare industry are diving into the new frontier of telemedicine. But it’s not solely hospitals getting in on the cutting edge. In fact, NASA’s Human Health and Performance team utilizes telemedicine to care for astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS), as detailed in the Harvard Business Review.
Astronauts spend from six months to one year aboard the ISS. These extended length missions require physicians to address a wider variety of issues than shorter expeditions, which generally require treatment for acute issues such as motion sickness and back pain. Telemedicine allows doctors and specialists to guide astronauts through medical procedures and discuss treatment plans for chronic issues in real time. All ISS crew members are taught to use onboard medical kits and devices, and some undergo 40 hours of medical training in order to be certified as a crew medical officer.
Now researchers are applying the lessons from telemedicine aboard the ISS to develop capabilities for even longer-term, interplanetary journeys. The biggest problem technicians face will be addressing is real time streaming. For example, conferencing with a physician while on a trip to Mars would involve a delay of a few minutes, eliminating the possibility of real time procedural guidance. But the benefits of space medicine’s advances are already being implemented on earth:
NASA’s experience with telemedicine can be applied not only to remote environments like Antarctica but also to areas currently underserved by medicine, from rural areas in the United States to developing countries. As technology and the internet become more accessible, telemedicine will increasingly connect health care providers to underserved areas.