Satellite applications: e-health

Satellites are playing an increasing role in the support of health and welfare on Earth. In the first of a series of bulletins looking at the range of satellite applications, this brief note summarises how satellite technology can assist in the provision of efficient health care and touches on some relevant legal issues.

There has been a limited awareness of space capabilities by the medical/health profession and an equally limited understanding of users’ needs by the satellite industry. However, due to factors such as an ageing-population and a reduction in health practitioners, particularly in rural areas, medical support involving a satellite element is being looked upon as an increasingly feasible solution. It also provides a cost-effective and accessible solution in developing countries where populations lack even basic levels of health care due to remoteness, poverty and lack of availability of local skills.

The use of satellite communications can play a role in several areas, as for instance:

1. Diagnosis, consultations, treatment and health monitoring

Satellite communications provide the ability for remote medical diagnosis and remote medical care in the home, which is particularly important for the growing ageing society, which may require assisted living. The World Health Organisation recently published the statistic that there are 600 million people globally who are over 60 years of age, and that 860 million people worldwide are living with a chronic condition.

Several satellite communications applications and services are already providing isolated populations with access to healthcare and medical practitioners with second opinions or additional support (e.g. tele-diagnosis in the absence of local expertise and health monitoring to enhance homecare, mobility and the autonomy of the ageing population). This is also coupled with a trend towards greater patient involvement and more general health awareness.

2. Emergency Services and Disaster Response

Miniaturised sensing equipment can be used to send data to a medical centre by means of a satellite system during emergencies and in relation to disaster response and rescue activities.

3. Commercial Aviation

Telemedicine by satellite can also support diagnosis and medical assistance on-board commercial aviation. Such a system could provide a multimedia data exchange between the aircraft and a ground based medical centre to support decisions as to whether to land, divert the flight or what action to take on board the aircraft.

4. Early Warning System

Satellite communications can also assist in the gathering of data to predict and track disease progression and associated risks of outbreaks.


Published by: LEXOLOGY on February 28, 2011

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