Telemedicine inspiration from a galaxy far, far away

Jan 7, 2016 / Telemedicine technology /
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On Dec. 17, 2015, the world was treated to the first new Star Wars movie in over a decade. Much is different this time around - a new director, a new cast and new characters - but the cultural impact of Star Wars is still as strong as ever.

The space opera series is famous for lightsabers and mystical warriors, but the legacy of Star Wars is deeper than just fiction. In addition to the grand space battles and epic journeys, the series is also full of space-age advanced medical technology. While much of it falls squarely in the realm of science fiction, a surprising amount of Star Warsian medical ideas have infiltrated their way into modern clinical telemedicine.

These are the droids you're looking for

More than just Jedi knights and aliens populate the Star Wars universe - the galaxy is also home to countless autonomous robots. These droids come in all shapes and sizes, from the golden-plated humanoid C-3PO to the short, squat and beeping R2-D2. It makes sense, then, that in a world where robots can translate conversations and fix star ships, droids are also relied on for medical services. Series protagonist Luke Skywalker enjoys the benefits of automated medicine twice during the trilogy, with medical droids helping him recover from hypothermia and even grafting on a robotic hand after he loses his to Darth Vader.

When the movies were released, the idea of droids performing medical procedures on people directly was so far-fetched it could only exist in a science fiction context. Nowadays, however, the lines between fantasy and fact are blurring.

"Remote medical devices that only existed in science fiction years ago are now frequently used."

Cue #1: Instrumentation relays medical information in real time

Everyone remembers the climactic scene in "The Empire Strikes Back" where Luke is rescued from a perilous situation by Princess Leia and Lando Calrissian and whisked away to safety aboard the Millennium Falcon. While the heroes were able to save the plucky protagonist, there was little they could do onboard the starship to help treat his recently lopped-off hand.

Fortunately, they didn't have to. The Falcon boasts communication equipment that can beam information at light speed halfway across the galaxy, ensuring that when Luke and company met up with the rest of the Rebel Alliance, the doctors aboard the medical frigate had all the information they needed to begin operating immediately.

In a similar vein, doctors and nurses can now achieve the same feats thanks to real-time relays that can send medical data to practitioners in other hospitals, cities or even countries. Remote medical devices that only existed in the pages of science fiction mere years ago are now frequently used by practitioners, enabling professionals to capture essential information on a patient's history, treatment, current condition and even vital signs, all remotely.

Cue #2: Getting closer to holograms

Back when the Star Wars trilogy was released, the only way people could communicate was in-person or over a telephone, which made the real-time holograms of the movies that much more magical. In the decades since the films first graced theaters, telemedicine technology has come very close to replicating this communication.

Although we are not quite as advanced as using holograms to communicate, our technology has progressed far enough to be able to go way behind just store and forward use-cases. Now doctors are able to remotely perform medical evaluations, surgical procedures and trauma care by leveraging telemedicine technologies that allow them to collect real-time medical images and video, so there is no delay in communications.

The effects of this have been tremendous. It used to be that something as simple as transporting a trauma patient to an emergency department cut EMS professionals off from much-needed doctor consultations. Now thanks to clinical telemedicine and mobile hardware, paramedics can consult with doctors face-to-face, in real time, all from the back of an ambulance. With doctors able to consult with paramedics and patients, and even able to obtain diagnostic information via this technology, they may not be riding in the ambulance with patients, but it's pretty close.

Cue #3: The robotic doctor will see you now

A shortage of doctors, especially in emergency medical settings, can create problems ranging from wasted time and patient inconvenience to delayed necessary treatment that could potentially harm a patient's prognosis. Thankfully, the best medical minds in the country have started teaming up with robotic sidekicks to increase their areas of care coverage as much as possible.

Healthcare organizations all over the world have been using robotic teleconference and telemedicine robots in its hospitals to more effectively connect physicians and nurses with specialists. One principal application of the technology has been to allow patients who have experienced stroke-like symptoms to conference with a specialist as quickly as possible. With a condition like stroke, literally every minute counts, and waiting for a specialist to arrive from another city often isn't feasible. Just like 2-1B and FX-7 looked after Luke when no doctors were around on Hoth, these remote telemedicine video conferencing units grant patients access to specialty medical care, regardless of when or where it's needed.

Medical technology is expanding, and clinical telemedicine is at the center of this growth. For more information on how telemedicine technology can benefit your practice, contact AMD today.

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