One of the most strong and dedicated promoters of telemedicine via satellite definitely is the European Space Agency (ESA). Currently, the organization is actively involved in the Euromednet project. The final aim is to deploy a Telemedicine Operation Centre for the transmission of medical data and images between several health care facilities in the Mediterranean area, from Bucharest over Sarajevo and Tirana to Milan, Rome and Palermo. Co-ordinator of the initiative is Telbios, an Italian consortium of researchers, active in the fields of space medicine, telemedicine and space biotechnology. The final release of the software is scheduled for December 1999, after which pilot operations will be planned to assess the validity of telemedicine via the use of ISDN and satellite.
The Euromednet project in fact has been inspired on the existing SHARED telemedicine network which was set up for humanitarian actions in Sarajevo during the recent war in Bosnia. Already at this time, the ESA and Telbios were partnering to build up a telemedicine service for the specialities of radiology, pathology and ophthalmology between the hospital sites of the Clinical Center University of Sarajevo and the Hospital San Raffaele in Milan. In the framework of SHARED project, the research team has implemented a system for videoconferencing in order to offer continuous medical education as well as consultation in clinical emergencies to the Sarajevo hospital staff. This service not only was used in a military context but also to provide help to the civilian population in this region, devastated by the war.
Euromednet builds upon the SHARED experience in that it constitutes an upgrade towards a more comprehensive operational network for users who are familiar with telemedicine technologies and all their related applications in the clinical practice. This giant satellite communications web will consist of cutting-edge computer equipment and a wide range of applications, data, software, databases, security management tools and telemedicine services. The core concepts include the Telemedicine Operation Centre (TeMOC) and the Telemedicine Users Client (TUC) for the access, manipulation and control of the clinical patient information. All participating sites have to be remotely controllable in order to facilitate interconnection and interoperation. First software results have to be available by June 1999.
The major challenge consists in the design of flexible and powerful tools that allow the transmission of patient medical images in real time for diagnostic purposes and the display of voice and all sorts of other data. In addition, the project includes training and consultation services in order to initiate health care professionals at remote sites in the various capabilities and use of the Euromednet satellite web. The pilot clinical sites include eight facilities with satellite terminal, consisting of a 2.4m dish, five facilities with ISDN terminal and two facilities equipped both with satellite and ISDN bridge. Twelve sites are spread over Italy whereas the three remaining are situated in Sarajevo, Tirana and Bucharest.
The various telemedicine activities and experiments, which will be organized within the Euromednet project, will strengthen the health care infrastructure in the Mediterranean area. Satellite as the central communication platform will play a key role in the online access to hospital facilities with specialized knowledge, equipment and experience in specific medical domains. As such, Euromednet has an important social background since the overall ambition consists in trying to close the existing gap in qualitative health care delivery between the Northern and Southern regions in Italy in particular as well as in Europe as a whole. For more details on the project, we refer to the home page of Euromednet.