How NASA Uses Telemedicine to Care for Astronauts in SpaceAug 4, 2017
Since the Expedition One launch to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001 — the first long-duration stay on the orbital construction site — NASA’s Human Health and Performance team has been developing expertise in the planning and provision of medical support to crews staying in our world’s most remote environment. Four times each year, we launch a new team of astronauts and cosmonauts to the ISS, where they will stay for six months to one year, performing engineering tasks, research, maintenance, and upgrades to prepare for future commercial vehicles. During this amount of time, access to medical care is crucial, as altered routines and microgravity have deconditioning effects on crew members’ bone and muscle, fluid distribution, and immune function.
Telemedicine is a key component of medical care on ISS. While doctors have always communicated with the crews of short missions, largely to guide them through acute spaceflight-specific health issues, today’s long-duration and exploration missions require space medicine to fulfill a much wider-ranging mandate and extend beyond minor illness and urgent care. Telemedicine enables preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic care during many months in space, and ideally allows for seamless continuity of care before and after missions. But our experience shows that achieving this requires planning and training prior to launch, as well as good communication and rapid learning in space. These factors are important for realizing the potential of telemedicine to improve care in other remote, extreme, or otherwise resource-constrained environments.
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