NASA pilots UpToDate for clinical support tool in outer space

NASA will now be piloting the clinical decision support tool UpToDate, which gives users access to thousands of clinical resourcers, on the International Space Station.
By Laura Lovett
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NASA is turning its attention to digital clinical support tools to treat astronauts that get sick or injured while in outer space. This morning the news broke that NASA will be piloting Wolters Kluwer’s UpToDate tool, which gives users evidence-based clinical decision support resources, on the International Space Station. According to the company, this marks the first time a clinical decision support tool has been used in space. 

The tool will give teams working in space access to vetted clinical content penned by specialist physicians. The company says that the content covers over 11,000 clinical topics. 

To mitigate internet connectivity issues, which are frequent in space, NASA decided to use UpToDate MobileComplete, which lets users access the content even if they do not have continuous internet access. 

Why it matters

Gaining access to medical care thousands of miles away from earth’s surface can be challenging. Astronauts on board the International Space Station don’t have access to a doctor onboard. Right now the main form of care in outer space now is telemedicine. This pilot will allow teams working in space to try out alternative forms of support. 

But clinical decision support tools like UpToDate Mobile Complete are also designed to help rural regions that may not have reliable internet as well. The company said the tool is currently being employed in both remote areas and disaster zones that have unreliable internet access. 

Meanwhile, the UpToDate tool, which use internet, is being employed at over 36,000 hospitals. 

What's the trend

This isn’t NASA’s first time employing digital health. Astronauts onboard the International Space Station are currently using telemedicine to contact an expert when a team member gets sick or injured. The crew also uses an ultrasound system, which has been rigged to be able to send data efficiently using ground control’s limited and densely scheduled uplink, and to use water instead of ultrasound gel, which would be one more thing to fly up to the station regularly. Additionally, the system was designed so a non-medical professional could use it. 

In March, NASA launched a new program called the Collaborative Health Innovation Platform at SXSW, MedCityNews reported. The program links NASA’s venture component, researchers and scientists with healthcare startups. 

On the record

“For over a quarter-century, UpToDate has served as the world’s most trusted clinical decision support resource. Now, we are proud to be used on the ISS, 250 miles (403 km) above the earth’s surface,” Denise Basow, CEO of clinical effectiveness at Wolters Kluwer Health, said in a statement. “Wolters Kluwer leverages insights from thousands of world-renowned experts, authors, editors and peer reviewers to help clinicians make the best care decisions wherever they practice — even in space.”