How NASA uses Telemedicine to Care for Astronauts in Space
NASA astronauts often spend months in space when they go for space missions. Every year, a team of astronauts is sent to the International Space Station, and they stay there for a period spanning six months to one year. Given the duration they are out in space, access to medical care is very critical in ensuring that the astronauts are in good health. This is where telemedicine comes into the picture. Bellaire ER gives an insight on how NASA uses telemedicine to care for astronauts in space.
Telemedicine has always been a very key component of ISS’s medical care. Other than helping treat astronauts suffering from minor illnesses and administering urgent care, it also enables diagnostic, therapeutic and preventive care for the while they are in space. It is a means by which the astronauts get a seamless continuity of medical care before, during, and after the space missions. While it is a great way to ensure the safety, well-being and effectiveness of the crew, telemedicine for astronauts comes with a greater need for proper planning and pre-launch training. Rapid learning and good communication are also other important aspects that have to be considered before the crew is sent into space.
The medical support for every space mission organized is usually planned by the NASA team of doctors, nurses, biomedical engineers, psychologists and image specialists on the ground. Each mission has its own unique profile that has to be given careful consideration. This is because the different missions have different needs and come with their own unique medical risks. The work of the grounded team is to determine the materials for trauma and disease prevention, diagnosis of ailments and treatment needed. They are a combination of both tangible and intangible materials. The medicine, the instruments, consumables, and the devices for exercise are tangible material assets while procedures, processes, and protocols fall under the intangible material category. The only way for all these material to work collaboratively and yield positive results that will ensure the health and well-being of the astronauts is by adding effective communication with the specialists on the ground into the mix.
Before launch, the crew is usually trained on how to follow the right procedures and use these medical assets effectively because the crew will not have a doctor on board. The training involves a thorough 40 hours of training using paramedic standards to make that the astronauts qualify as crew medical officers. The training involves familiarizing with foreseeable medical problems and the emergency responses, learning how they can perform a periodic physical examination and knowing when to call for the services of a flight surgeon from the ground.
As stated, rapid learning and effective communication are essential in telemedicine. Given that the provision of health care is a collaborative effort of all the people involved – those on the ground and the astronauts – all the personnel involved including the space crew, the doctors, nurses and the Mission Control team have to undergo training that equips them with the most effective operational communication skills. To further ease the treatment process in case of an emergency, communication is made much easier with the onboard procedure files that help in immediate problem address.
Another integral part of telemedicine is space is where private medical conferences with a ground doctor are held with the aim of discussing the way forward and conducting follow-up procedures in case initial treatment has already been administered. The conference is usually held through a secure connection for evaluation of the ailing astronaut, their diagnosis and treatment. This is because shared knowledge and collaboration ultimately leads to better administering of medical care.
One of the most effective and widely used procedures in space medicine is ultrasound imaging. It has been used to treat astronauts in the past. While it is one of the most developed telemedicine procedures, the approach applied for ultrasound imaging also works for other medical procedures like dental procedures, acupuncture, and minor surgery.
The procedure, planning, execution and the general telemedicine experience that NASA has is a great reference from which lessons can be drawn. With the main focus being the health and well-being of the astronauts, the process effectively combines all the required medical resources, effective training of the personnel and effective communication. The end result is effective health care for the astronauts for the period they will be out in space.
This can be a great reference point and a way for medical practitioners to provide effective and reliable telemedicine care to people in the remote part of the US and the world. The internet is constantly growing, and technology is continually evolving. This provides a greater platform for telemedicine physicians to make their services more accessible and more effective given the ease of communication. It is becoming increasingly possible to communicate in real-time, and the space exploration and improvement of NASA’s telemedicine may just be a way of improving healthcare on earth too.