Using telemedicine tools can help doctors save time, reduce travel times for patients and save hospitals money. But most importantly, they can help save lives.
This message was clear in the sessions and exhibits this year at the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) Conference in San Jose. Telemedicine is much more than just saving you a trip to the doctor’s office – it is paying huge dividends in developing countries to deliver care in areas that currently lack access.
This was more than apparent at the HP/MedWeb Telemedicine Clinic, where the stories of MedWeb’s ventures to rural Afghanistan to deliver mobile health services were on display across the booth.
MedWeb’s Juan Rodriguez has spent more than two years in Afghanistan, working to help deliver mobile health technology. After syncing up with MedWeb CEO Pete Kilcommons on a trip through Afghanistan a few years ago, Rodriguez and two other colleagues have helped deliver MedWeb’s telemedicine solutions and servers with HP hardware and printers to makes telemedicine possible in remote villages.
Rodriguez showed us images of a doctor who served as the director for the Disease Early Warning System in the Nuristan region of Afghanistan. The doctor spent much of his time traveling on foot around large distances of the region, identifying possible disease outbreaks like cholera, pertussis and meningitis, coughs and cold.
In the past, he would travel to each village and get samples of saliva or blood samples. He regularly dealt with unreliable radio signals, so it was often difficult to relay information back to the big city (Kabul) to analyze and aggregate the results.
Juan and his team wanted to help – they delivered smart phones with geo-tracking capabilities so the data could be uploaded to the internet immediately. They also put up mobile health stations with “Solar Cellular Network” black boxes designed to create new cell coverage for up to a 10 mile radius in disaster areas or rural places like Nuristan. Now, anywhere in the world, but specifically at the labs in Kabul, they could look at the information in Kabul and see how diseases were spreading in the region.
Rodriguez said that the impact of the new equipment was substantial for the doctor and his assistants. They reported carrying their HP notebooks and an HP OfficeJet 4500 printer wherever they went, often carrying them through the snow between villages to ensure any vital medical data was communicated as quickly as possible.
And once the doctors left town, the mobile health technology remained. The new cellular network allowed MedWeb to send voice or text messages to women who are pregnant every week about how they should be feeling and what to expect in their pregnancy. According to Rodriguez, the cultural context of Afghanistan means many women don’t have phones, so the messages are often customized to educate men – if they feed and care for their wives properly, their babies will healthy.
At the Malikzai clinic in Nuristan, local doctors run a radiology clinic on a rundown, hotwired generator that often burns out. With the help of MedWeb servers, the clinic has fewer issues with faulty medical equipment, and can send x-rays and other radiological images to doctors in the United States, Pakistan or India to provide a diagnosis.
Telemedicine products from HP and our partners are making the lack of trained specialists or nurses in a certain area less of an issue, giving patients with access to any nearby clinic the ability to reach the best doctor for them.
But the stories that Juan and his MedWeb colleagues deliver from Afghanistan remind us that telemedicine doesn’t just prevent a drive in from the suburbs – it often means the difference between care and no care at all. Communication is at the core of telemedicine, and we’re excited that our products are helping people worldwide find the care they need.
This article was originally posted on Explore Health IT blog. Images were provided by Juan Andres Rodriguez.