Source: ThinkStock

– Telemedicine technology may have saved the life of an astronaut on the International Space Station.

The astronaut – whose identity is not being disclosed – developed a deep vein thrombosis in the jugular vein during a six-month mission at the ISS. When NASA learned of the blood clot two months into the mission, they contacted Stephen Moll, MD, a member of the Blood Research Center at the University of North Carolina, to help develop a care management plan.

That plan included medication management from afar – very afar – and analysis of regular ultrasounds to monitor the blood clot. The telehealth platform enabled Moll and NASA colleagues to communicate with the astronaut and monitor his/her health at all times.

“When the astronaut called my home phone, my wife answered and then passed the phone to me with the comment, ‘Stephan, a phone call for you from space.’ That was pretty amazing,” Moll said in a press release issued by the UNC School of Medicine. “It was incredible to get a call from an astronaut in space. They just wanted to talk to me as if they were one of my other patients. And amazingly the call connection was better than when I call my family in Germany, even though the ISS zips around Earth at 17,000 miles per hour.”

Moll’s work epitomizes the challenges faced by care providers in treating astronauts, and serves as the first step in what officials hope will be a more robust connected health program in the future. Because NASA hadn’t experienced this type of medical emergency before, they used phones, texts and e-mails to manage care.

In this case, Moll and his team had to develop a plan to treat DVT in a zero gravity without ever laying hands on the patient.

“Normally the protocol for treating a patient with DVT would be to start them on blood thinners for at least three months to prevent the clot from getting bigger and to lessen the harm it could cause if it moved to a different part of the body such as the lungs,” he said. “There is some risk when taking blood thinners that if an injury occurs, it could cause internal bleeding that is difficult to stop. In either case, emergency medical attention could be needed. Knowing there are no emergency rooms in space, we had to weigh our options very carefully.”

Moll and his team used blood thinners to treat the blood clot, and had extra medication shipped up on a resupply mission to last through the four months.

For NASA and others dealing with people in remote locations, the future may lie in the development of wearable mHealth devices and clothing that can track vital signs and other biometrics on a remote monitoring platform. And events like this, outlined in a New England Journal of Medicine case study, will help researchers designing technology that can deliver care in space.

Source: NASA Uses Telehealth to Answer a Space Station Medical Emergency