Can satellites save soldiers’ lives with telemedicine?

One universal truth in medicine is that the faster you can provide care for patients, the better the outcomes may be. This is why early detection of diseases and major medical conditions is so important, and why ambulances have flashing lights and sirens.  The faster a diagnosis can be made and care delivered, the more likely a patient will survive or avoid life-altering complications.

Video: How commercial SATCOM provides telemedicine in Bangladesh

But what if the patient is a soldier in theater, far removed from a military hospital? And what if they’re sick or injured and require specialized care?

In these instances, the healthcare services that a warfighter needs can be a Humvee and helicopter ride away – or further. This means a lot of time can pass between the points when a life-threatening injury is sustained and when life-saving care is administered.

What’s the answer to remote specialized care in contested environments? One of the solutions lies in telemedicine.

A look at telemedicine and its benefits on the battlefield
Telemedicine is one of many technologies and capabilities that fall under the umbrella of e-health – the universal term given to the innovative use of technology to provide medical care or services. Telemedicine – as we see it in healthcare practices and organizations today – involves the use of advanced video teleconferencing (VTC) devices to deliver medical attention to a patient that is geographically separated from the healthcare provider.

Utilizing VTC for telemedicine implementations could get proper care to a wounded soldier much more quickly.  VTC capability is not limited to tablet or smart phones. Nor is it limited to a geographical location, given that the satellite provider linking the VTC has global coverage.

The challenge of delivering care via video in theater
Telemedicine is still considered a relatively new technology and is still just catching on across America’s healthcare community for a very good reason.  The HD VTC technology capable of delivering the necessary quality and experience is relatively new and far more advanced than the early video conferencing technologies that first entered the marketplace.

Even with advanced technologies that reduce bandwidth requirements of HD VTC – a high bandwidth connection and larger amounts of throughput are necessary for HD audio and video. This can be a problem in remote operations/theaters, where terrestrial fiber and other high-speed, high-bandwidth networks may not be available to the warfighter.

However, there is another solution that is being implemented right now for use in the delivery of care to civilians that could make telemedicine and other e-health capabilities a possibility for the warfighter, regardless of where they’re stationed.

Meet SatMed
In late July, the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, and the NGO, German Doctors, partnered with commercial satellite provider SES to launch a satellite-based e-health platform called SATMED at the German Doctors’ hospital in Davao City in the Philippines.

Network diagram depicting how commercial satellites can provide telemedicine for remote locations.

Davao City is the largest city on southern-most Philippine island of Mindanao.  Davao City is quite far from the nation’s capital, and largest city, Manila, which is on the northern-most island of the Philippine archipelago. This geographic divide can make it difficult for citizens in the remote areas around Davao City to access the same resources available to those in the big cities and other islands.

However, SatMed is enabling German Doctors to provide better quality healthcare services when they visit remote villages through mobile devices that can:

  • Enable collection of – and access to – patient data
  • Allow doctors to keep tabs on large groups of patients living in remote villages through text messaging
  • Enable German Doctors to communicate with doctors and medical experts around the world via video conferencing
  • Provide training for local medical professionals via e-learning solutions

Utilizing today’s high-bandwidth and low-latency satellites, SatMed is capable of delivering VTC, telemedicine and other e-health capabilities into remote areas of the Philippines that don’t have the traditional, terrestrial networks necessary to power them. These regions face many of the same technology and connectivity challenges facing warfighters in theater, which makes SatMed a great case study for how satellite can be utilized by the United States military to deliver similar capabilities to the tip of the spear.

Telemedicine offers incredible opportunities to deliver healthcare services, remotely and quickly, to soldiers without having to wait to be transported to where medical professionals and care waits for them. By utilizing satellite for telemedicine and delivering care more quickly, we can ensure better outcomes not only to those in need of humanitarian assistance, but to our soldiers as well.

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