Viasat Internet helps millions of people work, shop, and communicate with loved ones online. Now, it’s also bringing life-saving telehealth to communities around the world in hard-to-reach locations.
Partnering with telehealth specialist 19Labs, Viasat Internet links residents of these communities with doctors and medical staff — eliminating the need for residents to travel vast distances to seek health care. The telehealth service not only gives patients needed care, it saves time and money for patients, healthcare providers, and local governments.
“It’s literally life changing for these communities,” said Craig Noonan, senior executive consultant of Viasat’s Global Telehealth Services. “And it’s a win for everybody. We’re leveraging technology to not only make lives better, but doing so at lower cost.”
19Labs uses cellular networks to connect patients with health care providers. But cellular networks don’t extend to some of the most remote, in-need locations, and that’s where Viasat’s satellite internet plays a vital role.
“Particularly in mountainous and highly remote areas — which are home to at least 10% of the population — satellite gives us the reliable connectivity we need,” Noonan said.
So far, Viasat is providing internet to six clinics in Oaxaca, Mexico and the rural Hawaiian island of Molokai. In Oaxaca, the minister of health is working with Noonan and 19Labs to add more clinics in 2022.
“We have pilots in five different countries, and our goal is to do it all over the world,” Noonan said. “ViaSat-3 will be instrumental in those plans; it will give us affordable connectivity to serve those areas.”
ViaSat-3 is a constellation of three satellites that are designed to combine to cover the globe. The first of the trio is expected to launch soon.
According to the World Health Organization, up to 3.5 billion people – half the world’s population – don’t receive the health services they need. And 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household budgets on health expenses for themselves, a sick child, or other family member — expenditures that send 100 million of those people into extreme poverty.
How it works
While it’s an efficient way to fill health care gaps, the telehealth experience is much more than just a videocall. The 19Labs platform provides the full clinical experience for both the patient and doctor by integrating diagnostic devices and vital information in real-time during the consult.
Clinic sites are carefully chosen, often established in community centers or other central sites to which people can often walk or drive a short distance. To serve these rural communities, doctors currently visit the sites in person, rotating through the clinics around once per month. By adding connectivity and the 19Labs eClinic, nurses or trained community members are on site to assess patients and facilitate the online consultation with doctors and specialists.
“The platform connects patients with doctors but also allows doctors to monitor vital signs in real time,” Noonan said. “We’re splitting the doctor away from the location physically, but giving them all the needed tools and all the data. Patients in need of specialized care can also be connected to specialist via the platform.”
Connectivity, of course, is key.
“Viasat is integral to this solution because connectivity makes all of this possible,” Noonan said. “The key to implementing telemedicine is to have stable, reliable connectivity with enough speed to deliver video.”
In underserved communities, the remote option also means patients don’t have to wait for a doctor to visit their clinic.
Oaxaca has the highest pregnancy complication and infant mortality rate in Mexico. The eClinics help by providing patients with critical in-depth prenatal and post-delivery exams. Using ultrasound, contraction monitoring, and blood testing, clinicians can determine stress levels, changes in condition, and other issues via telemedicine. If a problem is detected, the advance testing creates enough lead time to transport the patient for escalated care. Post-delivery infant checkups are also made with regularity, and vital health information is tracked on a regular basis.
“With our system, the nurse or health aide can provide basic care for the patients, and they can also connect for general medicine or elevate to specialists via telemedicine anytime during the week,” Noonan said. “We’re increasing both reach and frequency of health care.”
Noonan said telehealth closes gaps created by two shortages: One in people and the other in funding.
Adding telehealth has the advantage of elevating a community’s poverty score, which is in part determined by access to health care. But while Noonan says the improvement in those numbers is gratifying, his satisfaction comes in seeing the effect on those who need the service.
“When we speak with people about the system, they light up,” he said. “They know they’re missing this, and immediately embrace it and understand the power of it.
“This work is exciting and gratifying. But the impact we have on lives and communities is paramount.”