Telemedicine network links Everest climbers live with ground level

Denver 07 May 1998 Telecommunications giant AT&T has been working together with ACT Videoconferencing, a specialist in teleconferencing products and services, to establish a video bridge for the integrated telemedicine network between the Mount Everest expedition, which took place in May, and an AT&T location in the United States. The climbers' health data travelled via satellite, transoceanic fiber and global ISDN from the physicians' team in the base camp at 18.000 feet on the mountain to the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, and the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachussets, for further analysis. At the same time, live video and medical data on the climbers' condition were made available on the Internet for everyone to consult.

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Telecommunications giant AT&T has been working together with ACT Videoconferencing, a specialist in teleconferencing products and services, to establish a video bridge for the integrated telemedicine network between the Mount Everest expedition, which took place in May, and an AT&T location in the United States. The climbers' health data travelled via satellite, transoceanic fiber and global ISDN from the physicians' team in the base camp at 18.000 feet on the mountain to the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, and the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachussets, for further analysis. At the same time, live video and medical data on the climbers' condition were made available on the Internet for everyone to consult.

The telemedicine link was set up to collect valuable information on the real-time delivery of medical care and data transmissions in extreme conditions, and in remote, barren environments. For that purpose, the climbing team, ranging in age from 32 to 44, transferred their health status, such as heart rates, respiratory, circulatory and other data via sensors and cameras to the staff of trained doctors in the base camp. The experiment will lead to a clearer understanding of human performance in exceptional situations as well as a better integration of digital-monitoring and optical-surgical devices in medical diagnosis and treatment programmes. The influence on the future health care industry might be considerable, as AT&T president Rick Roscitt states.

The real-time contact between climbers, base camp staff, and the US AT&T location was established through various high-technological steps. First, the signals, emitted by the climbers' monitor devices, were captured through medical telemetry and video for live transmission via digital wireless connections to an Internet outpost at the base camp. There, the trained staff could view the images live, after which they were relayed to the Internet via special satellite "B-Phones". A pair of the special phones worked with ISDN to transfer the video and audio signals, each at a speed of 64 Kbps. The data was multiplexed by means of a mobile computer with an onboard capability for combining multiple 64 Kb channels for video and data transmission.

The INMARSAT Indian Ocean Satellite transferred the base camp signals as dialled telephone calls to a land earth station in Malaysia. Next, the calls were routed over the COMSAT Global ISDN undersea network via fiber-optic lines to Santa Paula in California. There, the AT&T ISDN network could pick them up at 128 Kbps, in order to link them to ACT Videoconferencing in Golden, Colorado. Finally, ACT's multipoint video bridge in Dallas offered the necessary connections to several sites in the United States and 49 other countries, which are served by AT&T's Global ISDN network. Of course, medical data as well as information on global positioning and pictorial archives were first sent to the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge to be analysed. Afterwards, a selection of data has been transmitted to the AT&T Mount Everest Web site. Results were equally posted and are still available at the special Everest Expedition Web site.


Leslie Versweyveld

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