This blog post is part 3 in a mini-series of 4. Click here to read part 1, part 2 and part 4.
From data to health
With healthcare becoming digital, a huge amount of data is being collected and it’s likely that this will only increase. We don’t always know what we can do with this new bulk of data yet, but it is probable that valuable information is stored within. To analyze these huge streams of data, a lot of effort goes into development of algorithms that can find patterns that humans are no longer capable of detecting. On top of that, with health information being digital, healthcare can be delivered everywhere: more and more companies are taking parts of work traditionally being done in hospitals, universities or research institutes and try to improve on these tasks with artificial intelligence. Could everywhere mean also in space? It will be interesting to see which of these technologies will have health benefits for astronauts on long-duration space missions:
Credits: CB Insights. Health Innovation Sherpa Zayna Khayat calls this: ‘the unbundling of the hospital’.
Next to analyzing data, decision making based on these analyses is something humans need help with too. Being able to compare a certain case against hundreds of thousands similar cases is where a computer could outperform even the most experienced human doctor. But not only doctors benefit: right now we see artificial intelligence agents that can perform triage for patients too, making on-demand and safe medical advice accessible to anyone carrying a smartphone. Decision aids can help doctors and patients with decision making on Earth, but will be essential for deep space traveling.
Credits: Babylon Health
Real-time medical support
Astronauts can only be trained so much for potential medical events that arise up in space. In our current expeditions to the International Space Station astronauts are monitored by flight surgeons on the ground, who have regular private medical conferences with them. In turn those doctors can only do so much, having to work with their ‘patient’ on a long-distance video call. The actual doing is up to astronauts themselves that for example learn how to draw their own blood (with tools floating away if not careful in weightlessness).
Inspiration from fiction: In the television series Star Trek Voyager the doctor on board of the starship is a computer program: a hologram with all of humankind’s medical knowledge built-in that performed as the chief medical officer of the ship.
Even with the advent of virtual humans (see previous post), we do not yet have virtual docs wondering around the International Space Station like the doctor on board the fictional USS Voyager. However, astronauts will need real-time medical support, that they can no longer get from ground control when they are on their way to Mars. If we are going to venture further away than low Earth orbit, the communication delay alone will make requesting medical assistance undoable. Making the right decision for treatment might come from similar decision support systems as the ones that are being developed on Earth for patients and doctors.
This post is part 3 of a mini-series. Next time: What is reality for space health?
Written by Jules Lancee
In my work as a biomedical engineer I focus on emerging technologies and their role in a changing world of healthcare. I explore how they will impact the care that we deliver to patients, but find it equally interesting how they will be able to benefit the future of long-term spaceflight. I think both questions are opportunities for collaboration and inspiration!