Using satellite technology to save lives

A trial underway in rural Scotland is demonstrating how satellite technology from ViaSat can help save lives in the ‘golden hour.’


A new service made possible by Viasat could save lives by improving medical care inside the critical golden hour after an accident.

The golden hour is the period after a medical emergency during which rapid intervention greatly increases a patient’s chance of survival.

SatCare, a pilot program now linked to five Scottish ambulances, lets paramedics send high-quality video and ultrasound images to hospital staff direct from the scene of an accident. That can help paramedics provide better care at the scene, or en route. It also helps doctors make critical decisions to streamline care when a patient arrives, or let trained staff divert the patient to a hospital that offers specialized care.

The ambulances in the trial serve rural and remote areas of Scotland.

If the year-long trial is a success, SatCare could help medics serving remote areas across Europe, the United States and worldwide.

Viasat is partnering with University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Rural Health on the program and working with NHS Highland and the Scottish Ambulance Service.

The connected ambulances communicate with hospital staff through Viasat’s satellite broadband communications system. They’re also equipped with state-of-the-art scanning equipment. Paramedics can record and package a scan with a video summary of the patient’s condition, and transmit it in seconds to Raigmore Hospital’s emergency department in Inverness, Scotland. The medical experts there will assess the patient’s needs, give the paramedic treatment advice, and mobilize the staff and resources needed for the patient’s arrival.

The team did a small test about a month before the pilot launched.

“Feedback was very positive,” said Viasat UK Director of Space and Communications Neil Fraser. “Now the team will do a full year of clinical trials and assess the impact: Does it allow us to diagnose patients more quickly? Does it lead to better intervention earlier? Does it improve operational and clinical outcomes? A lot of very detailed data will be gathered and analyzed.”

Fraser, who spent 26 years in the military, knows first-hand the importance of a rapid treatment response.

“I’ve seen the impact getting inside that golden hour has; if you can reduce that period, you’ve got a far greater chance of saving life or limbs,” he said. “The ability for a paramedic on the scene with a patient to communicate with a doctor allows people to make critical lifesaving or medical decisions inside that hour.”

The technology is especially important in remote areas. The easy-to-use equipment designed for the trial will allow transmission of high-bandwidth video summaries and ultrasound scans in areas where mobile phones and traditional emergency communication services don’t always work.

Director of the Centre for Rural Health Philip Wilson agreed.

“This trial is a landmark in rural emergency care research,” he said. “This research will tell us how effective and, equally important, how cost-effective this technology can be.”

Viasat’s team in the UK developed a specialised fit for the ambulance, interfacing ultrasound equipment with the communications system and developing the hardware and software solution.