Medical devices being developed to help deliver health care to astronauts in space might also benefit patients on Earth.

Engineers at the National Space Biomedical Research Institute are designing a system to provide an accurate patient history, assist in treatment, and help astronauts be more efficient in providing medical care in orbit while on months-long spaceflights. But the system may also help in other locations where resources are also limited , including emergency rooms , battlefields or accident scenes .

The project combines two existing technologies: the iRevive medical record software and the Lightweight Trauma Module monitoring and therapeutic care system .

The system will be designed to "collect, monitor and fuse patient care information with physiological patient data and optimize remote medical diagnosis, ventilator support, intravenous (IV) fluid therapy and treatment options," said John Crossin of NSBRI.

The LTM, a briefcase-sized device, measures vital signs, such as pulse and blood oxygen levels, and serves as a ventilator, according to the engineers.
The iRevive software automatically records vital sign data from the LTM and allows care givers to add other notes to the patient record. The software guides caregivers through the process of adding notes, the engineers said.

"The person providing care after an accident is trying to keep the patient alive," Crossin said. "Some of the records can be confusing, lost or not include the time a treatment or an observation occurred. A system that automatically records data will reduce errors and the time needed to look up information. This allows a greater focus on providing care."

The system is designed to be easy to operate. "We are making an intuitive, easy-to-use system that requires little medical training to understand and use," Crossin said.

With one keystroke, the system can transmit data to flight surgeons in Mission Control, the engineers said.

The instant access to current and historical data could give flight surgeons the ability to quickly assess the situation and provide guidance to the crew. This feature may also be beneficial to health care providers in rural clinics or emergency personnel at accident scenes.

The system may also help manage the limited medical resources on a spacecraft and in other settings, according to the engineers.

For example, it could help medical personnel determine how much oxygen is needed for critically wounded patients being air-lifted out of a war zone to a hospital thousands of miles away, they said. The caregiver could then give the right amount to each patient and conserve oxygen for future use, or possibly allow more patients to be transported on the same flight.

Crossin said the group plans to begin a clinical trial of the combined system in early 2011 on about 40 patients.