Mobile breast-screening units deployed in the UK have been equipped with satellite communication links for better efficiency

Esa supports breast image sharing via satellites

Mobile breast screening units in the UK have been equipped with satellite hardware to speed up delivery of images to experts for faster diagnoses.

As part of a recently concluded trial, Bristol-based RedFoot Technologies has equipped 12 breast-screening vans with self-pointing satellite antennas to allow the healthcare workers not only to share images with hospital-based radiologists faster but also to have constant access to internet or teleconferencing services.

“The Mercury service delivers outstanding gains in efficiency for breast screening operators and will play a vital role in the drive to screen more women in the UK,” said David Osmond, Director of RedFoot Technologies.

Until today, images obtained by the mobile breast screening units have had to be collected over the day and copied to hard drives for a physical transportation to hospitals.

RedFoot Technologies’ Project Mercury, developed as part of the European Space Agency’s (Esa) Integrated Applications Promotion programme, uses a simple one-touch service package to transmit a complete set of clinical data either continuously or as a single batch of data at the end of the day.

The images together with information where and when were they acquired, are then encrypted and sent to hospital databases via satellites or a private network.

Software at the hospital sorts and delivers the images overnight so they are available to radiologists in the morning.

The system runs via the Hylas-1 satellite operated by Avanti Communications.

"Working with Esa, we developed the Hylas Applications Initiative to encourage companies such as RedFoot to develop new applications that harness the capabilities of high-speed satellite broadband," said Graham Peters, Director of Avanti Applied Technologies.

The system is said to improve efficiency of the screening vans by 10 to 20 per cent, allowing them to screen more women within a day, which is to become increasingly important as NHS plans to extend screening to women beyond 70 years of age.

RedFoot Technologies said that out of the 12 vans involved in the initial trial four have already signed up to keep using the service.

The mobile breast-screening units, operated in the UK since 1987, are believed to save 1,400 lives a year, providing convenient services to women in remote areas.

Breast cancer comprises 22.9 per cent of all cancers in women worldwide. The likelihood of survival and recovery varies greatly depending on when the cancer is detected. The earlier the detection, the better the chances.

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