Lab Department at the Mama Tabitha Methodist Hospital in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hospital patients receive better care now, thanks to a new telemedicine program.
Courtesy of William Heberden Telemedicine Foundation
Telemedicine Improves Global Health
By Julia Kayser*
What if your medical records were stored securely and electronically so that they were never lost? What if you could consult with specialists via video conferencing instead of having to travel hundreds of miles? What if you could access your medical records and show them to your health care providers using any simple, text-enabled phone?
These advancements would make a huge impact not only in rural hospitals in the United States but in hospitals around the world. And the technology already exists. It’s called telemedicine. But implementing an electronic medical records system can cost domestic hospitals between five million and three billion dollars. For hospitals struggling just to get a physician base (which is a challenge, as more and more medical students decide to become specialists rather than General Practitioners), electronic recordkeeping just isn’t affordable.
It’s this gap between telemedicine technology and availability that the William Heberden Telemedicine Foundation aims to eliminate. This nonprofit is making a simplified Electronic Medical Records system available to rural hospitals in developing nations for free. “The most important thing,” says Rev. Mark Lancaster, president of the Board, “is that we try to make a dramatic impact on the health outcomes for millions of people around the world.”
For example, patients at the Mama Tabitha Methodist Hospital in Kolwezi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are getting better care now. One man had struggled for more than twenty-five years with symptoms of pulmonary emphysema. After the hospital implemented a telemedicine program, he was able to have a consultation with a pneumatology specialist and get a diagnosis of alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency. With this diagnosis came personal empowerment and a successful treatment protocol.
The telemedicine program “helps us to take in patients we could not treat before,” says Dr. Peniel Kasongo, the hospital’s medical director. “It strengthens our credibility in the city and brings the hospital external expertise.” At first, staff members were skeptical of the new system, but after going through the training, they became enthusiastic. Rev. Lancaster attests to the ease of implementation: “Unlike most of the very expensive systems, ours has most of the bells and whistles, but for the entire staff, training takes just two or three days.”
Rev. Lancaster is ordained in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of The United Methodist church, and he celebrates this denominational connection. “We are delighted to be working with United Methodist hospitals. They are very gracious and very interested in doing everything they can to improve care.” The William Heberden Telemedicine Foundation is currently working in partnerships with two Methodist hospitals in Sierra Leone, one in Liberia, two in the Philippines, and at Mama Tabitha in the DRC.
UMCOR is investigating ways to be in strategic partnership with the William Heberden Telemedicine Foundation. Its mission is very similar to the Hospital Systems Strengthening program. Both programs aim to increase the quality and availability of health care. The experience of telemedicine is “seamless to the patient,” says Rev. Lancaster, “but behind the scenes it’s protecting the patient and providing the highest quality health care available.”
In order to support programs like these that strengthen hospitals, donate to UMCOR Advance #982168.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org