Brussels, 10 Dec 2002
A Commission funded collaboration project between the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) aims to formulate policies for the delivery of e-health services to Europe's citizens by 2010.
The Telemedicine Alliance project aims to promote the use of telecommunication technologies in medicine, whilst standardising different countries' e-health systems in order to provide citizens with seamless services throughout the EU. Representatives from the project were also present at a recent conference in Bruges, entitled 'delivering e-health across Europe'.
While ESA may not appear to be a natural partner in an e-health project, through its technology transfer programme space technologies are already being used in heart operations, dentistry, melanoma detection, and in many areas of medical research.
ESA's satellites are also key elements in the delivery of effective e-health services. They are used in emergency situations or remote regions to transmit images and information on patients to medical specialists in other parts of the world.
The most recent demonstration of the medical applications of ESA technology took place on 5 December, when a radiologist at St Anne's hospital in Toulon, France, used a teleoperated robotic arm, along with videoconferencing equipment and satellite communications, to diagnose a test patient aboard the French hospital ship Sirocco, stationed at sea.
The advantages of e-health services are clear. Routine checkups could be conducted online, saving health services time, money and resources; patients' medical records could be made immediately available to any hospital in Europe to aid effective treatment; and disabled and elderly patients could consult doctors without having to leave their homes.
Before such services can be fully developed, however, some key issues need to be resolved. These include ensuring the privacy of patients' digitally stored records, facilitating and protecting the exchange of health data, and harmonising health care services in Europe whilst respecting different cultures and systems. It is solving issues such as these, as well as achieving the overall goal of delivering effective e-health services for all Europeans, to which the Telemedicine Alliance project hopes its work will contribute.