Researchers with the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) have developed a computer-based training method that teaches non-physicians to operate ultrasound as if they were technicians. Crew members for four International Space Station (ISS) missions have trained with the program and have performed ultrasound techniques while in space. The ultrasound program also has been used by trainers with the Detroit Red Wings hockey team.
"In isolated places like the ISS, we don't have the luxury of a radiologist or specialist onboard," said Dr. Scott A. Dulchavsky, a researcher on NSBRI's Smart Medical Systems Team. "Our goal is to enable someone working in a remote environment to assess and manage an emergency medical condition."
In space, ultrasound can be used to assess a number of injuries such as trauma to the eye, shoulder or knee, tooth abscesses, broken or fractured bones, a collapsed lung, hemorrhaging, or muscle and bone atrophy. It normally takes 200 hours plus yearly updates to learn to operate ultrasound, but Dulchavsky and his team developed an education method that cuts the time to two-to-three hours a year.
Dulchavsky also sees this ultrasound training method as beneficial to battlefield medics and emergency responders. Injury severity can be assessed and decisions made whether to treat injuries on site or transport to a hospital.
"With remote guidance, we virtually couple a modestly trained operator with an experienced medical expert, essentially making the non-physician the hands of the expert," said Dulchavsky, chair of the Department of Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. "There is tremendous potential for space medicine and benefits for Earth."