Health eVillages: Going the Extra Mile with Disaster Recovery

June 24, 2013
As health systems continue to prepare for disaster, one program, through the use of mobile technology, has gone leaps and bounds to make sure that patients who are still recovering are getting the attention to their health that they so badly need.

Although it got lost in much of the mainstream media coverage, it was great to see that patients’ medical records at Moore Medical Center in Moore, Okla. were able to be transferred to other hospitals following this month’s tragic tornado that ripped through the city. And it might not be a coincidence that certain hospitals on the east coast have put disaster recovery plans in place following last year’s Hurricane Sandy. Undoubtedly, as more hospitals become paperless and continue to implement electronic medical records (EMRs), medical centers will be better equipped to deal with disaster.

But disaster recovery in health IT doesn’t end with the transfer of medical records. In certain parts of the world, years of recovery are needed in areas that become underprivileged. Enter the field of mobile technology, which includes the use of mobile devices in collecting community and clinical health data, as well as the delivery of healthcare information to practitioners, researchers, and patients. In areas with poor economic conditions, mHealth has proven to be a key component of delivering better patient care.

Health eVillages is a program of Physicians Interactive (PI), a Marlborough, Mass.-based provider of online and mobile clinical resources and solutions for clinicians, and the not-for-profit Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. It provides mobile health technology—including medical reference and clinical decision support resources—to medical professionals in the most challenging clinical environments around the world.

I recently had a chance to speak with Devin Paullin, who serves on the advisory board of Health eVillages and is the executive vice president of corporate business development at PI. Paullin told me how the organization’s CEO and founder, Donato Tramuto, felt that medical information should be everyone’s right. “We’re sitting here with an app that can save lives, and right now, it’s in our back pocket,” was Tramuto’s thought at the time, according to Paullin.

The software that Tramuto was referring to was PI’s Skyscape medical resource app. The content is available on-demand to physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and physician assistants, and is specialized based on needs in primary and acute care, maternal and child health, chronic disease, tropical disease and more.

Since the program launched in 2011, Health eVillages has put devices in the hands of clinicians worldwide, enabling critical improvements to patient care in Kenya, Uganda, China, Haiti, and now rural Louisiana, where it has partnered with the Teche Action Board in the city of Franklin. In Louisiana, the devices—primarily smartphones, tablets and iPod Touches—are to be used by community health professionals to treat residents in this underserved section of the country. The first Teche Action Clinic (a non-profit community based federally qualified health center) was opened in 1974 by volunteers to provide healthcare for seasonal sugar cane workers in the area. The non-profit organization now supports 10 clinics, serving some 18,000 residents along the four-state Gulf Coast.

Due to the economic conditions, Health eVillages could identify clinics and opportunities where they could not only provide devices, but also where they could travel to train and tailor the contents specific to the diseases to the patients who will be seen. For example, in Kenya, where the birth rate and mortality rate is so high, the program wants to make sure that it provides critical pre and post-natal content, as well as content specific to HIV, AIDS, and malaria, in addition to basic drug and treatment information. Health eVillages will then provide its clinicians iPads to use not only for this information, but also to show their patients education videos so they can gain knowledge and understanding.

The program works with these practices on a monthly basis. In rural Uganda, there might not be power, but because of a partnership with a solar charging device, Health eVillages is able to make sure that it can keep devices actively working even when there is no power grid in a particular clinic.

And in rural Louisiana, where people are still experiencing lingering health issues from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster three years ago (a recent study of Gulf Coast residents in four states by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network showed 87 percent of those surveyed were experiencing medical conditions potentially linked to the oil spill and cleanup effort), the Teche Action Board has taken steps to improve care in an area where 82 percent of the patient population is at or below the poverty line. Particular to the oil spill, there is actually content loaded on the devices that is specific to exposure to toxic substances.

The stories of nurses and practitioners around the world from health eVillages are quite inspiring, and Paullin said those are the people who he gets the most noticeable feedback from. There was one anecdote from Paullin that particularly stuck out to me involving a thriving, rural hospital--the Lwala Community Alliance (LCA), in Lwala, Kenya.

Soon after being trained on the Skyscape software, one of the nurse practitioners, “Okari,” was faced with a patient whose unborn child was at risk for prenatal asphyxia, a medical condition resulting from deprivation of oxygen. Okari searched for “neonatal resuscitation” and refreshed his memory with the procedure within the Skyscape software.  He then watched a video provided by the program’s partners at MedicalAid Films on neonatal resuscitation. Thanks to the devices, his mind was fresh with the knowledge needed for a newborn resuscitation. Okari provided the proper medical care and saved the baby’s life. The patient, Katherine, walked away with a healthy baby boy.

When Paullin told me this story, I could tell how it hit home to him. And while he admitted there are challenges involved in Health eVillages’ initiative—such as funding and language barriers—it was hard to look past the fact that the program accomplished its ultimate goal of saving lives.

So while we can tell that health IT has come a long way just by looking at the technology advancements after the catastrophic Hurricane Sandy and the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla., it is important to remember that the effects of disasters don’t just go away when the media coverage stops.

Conversely, there are cities and countries experiencing tragedy that can create an underprivileged patient population for an indefinite amount of time. Hopefully, more programs like health eVillages can step up to the plate to provide these populations with the proper patient care that they so desperately need.

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