One Giant Leap: Medical Informatics in the Space Age

March 1, 2003

3 Min Read
One Giant Leap: Medical Informatics in the Space Age

Originally Published MPMN March 2003


One Giant Leap: Medical Informatics in the Space Age

0303p4a.jpgSince the recent tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia, the very existence of the space program has come into question. Some wonder about the usefulness of sending humans into space. Are the benefits derived from manned missons worth the inherent risks of space flight?

I believe they are. The scientific knowledge gained from space exploration is invaluable. But most important to the medical device industry are the technologies being developed to assist astronauts while they are traveling the cosmos. NASA says it foresees missions that will take humans for longer lengths of time to ever-greater distances from Earth. Medical technology must be portable enough to travel with the crew wherever they go. These technologies will have applications here on Earth, enabling more medical care to be delivered at remote facilities.

"Again the needs of our space program will fuel a revolution in healthcare," states the Medical Informatics and Technology Applications Consortium (MITAC) on its Web site. The same type of telemetry devices that can tell Mission Control what is happening aboard the space shuttle will allow physicians to treat and diagnose patients almost anywhere on this planet. NASA is playing a leading role in the development of much of this technology, including telemetry, telemedicine, and material science.

This is a welcome development for the medical device industry. Technologies such as videoconferencing, the Internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and satellite and wireless communications already exist. However, they are not yet fully implemented in the U.S. healthcare industry.

Healthcare lags behind other industries such as finance, insurance, and education, says the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth at the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These markets have already integrated information systems into their routines. Healthcare could be at least 10 to 15 years behind these other sectors in computing, says the agency.

Fortunately, that's changing. According to MITAC, as information systems and sensor technology continue to evolve, integration into medical devices for diagnosis and treatment will become commonplace. The consortium is working with its partners to further develop sensors and transmitters that can be used to obtain medical information and distribute it to aid in diagnosis and treatment. They are also supporting efforts to develop effectors and process simulators, which can be integrated into both diagnosis and treatment.

Incorporating new information-sharing technologies into medical devices will have untold benefits. People living in rural areas will have access to sophisticated treatments and diagnoses. Those with ongoing conditions such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among others, can be monitored and perhaps even treated from the comfort of their own homes. Implementing informatics into the healthcare system will truly be a giant leap for mankind.

Susan Wallace, Managing Editor

Copyright ©2003 Medical Product Manufacturing News

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