Satellite technology is used for telecommunications, weather forecasting, internet connectivity, navigation, finance, and many other areas. Recent satellite uses in medicine also include combating the COVID-19 crisis. While the telemedicine concept goes back to the 1960s, a recent pandemic has changed the way we use medical satellites now. Let’s take a quick look at the history of telemedicine and its evolution today.
Satellite Uses in Medicine: History
NASA was the first agency to start using satellites in medicine. ATS-1 spacecraft, launched in 1966, was used to provide healthcare in remote rural areas in Alaska. The project originated from the lack of healthcare professionals and infrastructure, high tuberculosis rates in the area, as well as the desire to demonstrate practical satellite uses to the government and federal agencies.
The latter proved effective, as more medical satellites followed ATS-1. In 1996, ESA launched a medical project of its own. Their satellite communication systems were used for teleconsultations between Italian doctors and patients.
Later in 2001, India established an entire telecommunications network to make up for the lack of medical professionals in its rural areas. This system offered an extensive range of services, from cardiology and mammography to radiology and X-rays. The project proved to be very effective as it allowed patients to save up 80% of their medical budget on travel expenses. In 2004, a similar system was used to fight the tsunami consequences.
Today, many countries, including Canada, Australia, Romania, Russia, and the UK, use satellite data to offer more flexible healthcare services.
Today’s Satellite Uses in Fighting COVID
Given the success of satellite data uses in medicine, it is no wonder that many countries started using satellites to fight the COVID pandemic. Right now, space tech provides many healthcare services with multi-media patient info that helps with early diagnosis and clinical decision-making. For example, remote consultations often prevent urgent surgeries.
Besides, paramedics rely on satellite connectivity while streaming vital signs, such as ECG, temperature, and blood pressure, back to hospitals. This technology helps to eliminate error and misinformation while treating patients. What’s even more important, it helps ambulance teams communicate with doctors and make more informed decisions when it comes to emergency help.
Satellite connectivity is also used to limit the number of face-to-face diagnoses and fight the COVID contagious nature. So far, social distancing is the major step that prevents the spread of COVID, so the telemedicine concept introduced in 1966 really helped combat the latest crisis.
Drones and robots are also used to deliver medical supplies and disinfect hospitals. Without satellite navigation, automating this process would not be possible. And, of course, AI data has been used on the vaccine development stage. Ultimately, every satellite used for remote controls and automation helped prevent cross-infection, giving countries a chance to contain coronavirus.
During the COVID peak, governments worldwide started to accept the initiatives that would help fight the pandemic. For example, ESA announced funding for companies that have actionable suggestions on how space tech can be used to combat the global crisis.
One more satellite used for fighting COVID relies on space imagery and mapping. Earth-observation satellites provide imagery that is later used to create maps of vulnerable populations. Mostly, those are demographic maps of young and elderly people.
China has also introduced a commute route that avoids COVID-dangerous areas. Working side-by-side with infected people’s data, this tech highlights areas with the most infected population. A trajectory-tracking algorithm identifies the hotspots. The system pinpoints infection areas in real-time and offers drivers the safest route suggestions. ESA made use of a very similar project, called Galileo Green Lane.
Similar technology is used to identify movements of proven patients that have not been hospitalized. Some countries can even send notifications to people who were anywhere near established carriers so that they could quarantine themselves. Other countries use satellite data to validate students’ access to schools that is only supposed to happen in specifically determined learning hours.
And, of course, satellite connectivity has been indispensable at the time of self-isolation. So far, phone and online calls have been the only means of staying in touch with loved ones, especially those in high-risk areas. Minor as it may sound, a chance to stay in touch also played its part in our overall well-being, contributing its share to the COVID fight.
Right now, several satellite programs are in use to monitor the world as it gradually recovers from COVID. Rapid Action Coronavirus Earth mission, introduced by ESA, relies on imagery, mapping, and data analysis to estimate the lockdown impact. If satellite data is as effective in helping the economies recover, there is hope that humanity will get through the pandemic with minimal losses.