Providing Digital Healthcare Services via Space

Providing Digital Healthcare Services via Space

Across the world more and more industries are utilising, implementing and benefiting from the technology provided by satellite solutions. Anything from earth observation, satellite navigation to various communication methods are being used within maritime, education and agricultural services. So how can satellite communications help provide the best living saving services around the world?

Digital healthcare in developing countries/ economies and health ecosystems are facing more and more dilemmas to provide a high standard and affordable services to all.  Many organisations have recognised and highlighted that communities should have easy access to healthcare services without the substantial costs. Therefore many studies have commenced to explore the possibility of different types of communication alongside ground breaking changes within healthcare equipment to meet these demands.  

The impact that COVID19 has had on the healthcare system can not be ignored either, and it could be said has driven many advancements in providing services remotely as well as monitoring critical supply trains. IT teams have been faced with unprecedented demands for virtual models of healthcare delivery and patient experience, while maintaining business continuity. 

One of the simplest ways satellite communication solutions can assist addressing the accessibility to healthcare services for those in the remotest of locations, is providing a secure and reliable communications service right into the centre of communities. This prevents the need for elderly and severely ill patients having to travel long distances for consultations and check-ups. The satellite communication can be an enabler for allowing video conference consultations, general chats as well as expert guidance from small practices that may otherwise not have access to these services or people. 

With the increase in demand for smaller and cheaper satellite modems, it could now be possible to integrate such devices into healthcare monitoring systems, such as defibrillators, ECGs and possibly X-Ray machines to enable not only the transfer of vital patient data in near real time, but also the control of these devices to experts which may otherwise not be able to reach or help patients when they require them the most. Integrated, automated devices could also monitor vital patient statistics and alert the necessary services in the event of an emergency. 

Charitable organisations, like the Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), already use large VSAT connectivity to provide essential links to their hospitals around the world. This technology allows the volunteers to remain connected to their head offices, provide secure connections, telephone lines and internet connectivity, something that many hospitals would take for granted daily, but can only be provided in developing economies via the use of satellite solutions.    

Even in the UK, rural areas have been benefiting from mammographic images being transferred via satellite to a specialised hospital for expert advise directly from the NHS screening vehicles. Historically these examinations would have required lots of paper work and delays in results, with high risks in losses of information and patients worrying unnecessarily. The aim of the project is to reduce waiting times, providing as much information in a short period of time as well as reducing the risk for information being lost and taking a ‘paperless’ approach for the future. This project, if implemented in more locations, could help increase the number of women having access to this service, which in turn could save lives.     

Satellite communications are providing alternative ways to provide essential training to staff in the field. As with the maritime industry, ensuring that your key staff can maintain their own education and training without incurring high travel costs and time away from their positions has become ever more popular over the past 12 months. Video training calls are being streamed over satellite links for health care workers in developing country environments, to deliver films on health worker training programmes. Each video can provide a virtual walk through of real life scenarios and medical procedures, whilst being scripted or translated into multiple languages. 

The biggest concern for these types of projects and trials, is how long they will last and can they be financially sustainable in the future? There is no doubt that these advancements will benefit many communities, but the question of where the funding will come from long term needs to be addressed

With the collaboration of great minds and organisations, many more lives could be saved.

Kay Barber
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