Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Good Samaritan Clinic in central Honduras. The clinic supports the primary care needs of 90,000 people within the municipality. Access to specialists is few and far between so Good Samaritan recently implemented telemedicine technology (computer, camera, imaging, and internet) to connect with specialists in the US. Access to these specialists is made available at no cost through the “Global Partnership for TeleHealth (GPT).”
Telemedicine is often defined as “the use of information and communications technology to deliver healthcare, particularly in settings where access to medical services is insufficient.” Better overall patient care and improved outcomes are cornerstones of telemedicine. As a result, many hospitals and health systems are deploying telemedicine as a way for rural patients to have access to healthcare services that they would not be able to obtain otherwise.
In rural or impoverished areas of the world, where disease is prevalent, doctors are scarce and healthcare infrastructure is inadequate, telemedicine holds tremendous promise in expanding healthcare access worldwide. Technology now exists that can connect the developing world to the resources of the developed world.
During my visit, Good Samaritan used telemedicine for the very first time. Three weeks earlier, a baby was born with both male and female genitalia at one of the remote birthing centers in the mountains (two and a half days of travel away). In the mountains, internet and cell phone capabilities do not exist. The mother was referred by the birthing center to Good Samaritan for follow up by the Clinic’s general practitioner, Dr. Madrid. Dr. Madrid ran preliminary labs after consulting with an Endocrinologist from Washington DC participating in GPT. A follow up consultation was scheduled for the mother and baby with the Endocrinologist.
Over this three week period, the mother returned to the mountains with her baby but kept a low profile. How could she explain to the community whether she had a girl or a boy? What name should she give her baby? Did her other children have a new brother or a new sister?
Upon the patient’s return to Good Samaritan, the Clinic used telemedicine technology for the very first time. The Endocrinologist was able to examine the baby and communicate with Dr. Madrid as if he was in the same room. During the examination, the images were clear and the audio connection was good. The baby was diagnosed with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia and pronounced a girl! Additional tests were ordered and a treatment plan was created.
The following morning, when the mother began her two-day journey back to the mountains, she knew she had a daughter in her arms. She understood the ongoing treatment required would dramatically improve the quality of her daughter’s life. There is no price you can place on seeing the stress and anxiety leave the mother’s face as she heard this news.
As HIM professionals, we work with our organizations to make sure the appropriate information governance infrastructure (data, forms, policies, etc.) is in place to support telemedicine. As we do this, it is important to remember the impact we are making in the lives of patients around the world.
Ann Chenoweth is Director of Industry Relations with 3M Health Information Systems.