Advances in technology have allowed us to accomplish amazing things. From the creation of medical equipment like the brain scanner to the first lunar landing, all major milestones for humanity can be linked back to the ingenuity of inventors and creative minds. Where medical x-rays are concerned, it is no longer necessary to have a specialist radiologist in every hospital — there are hospitals in the US, for example, which obtain out-of- hours reports on urgent x-rays from radiologists based in Australia. Technology is used here for time-shifting, to allow doctors to work more normal hours.

The medical needs of developing countries are similar to those of the industrialised world, but there are far fewer doctors. Humanitarian organisations providing aid to developing countries often send medical staff to work there. Technology has an important role in supporting the work of these field doctors, who are usually generalists. When a specialist opinion is required, technology can assist: the act of practising medicine at a distance is known as “telemedicine”.

How does telemedicine work?

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is an international humanitarian aid organization, widely known for its work in war-torn countries and regions plagued by endemic diseases. Every year, MSF sends tens of thousands of doctors, nurses, and other volunteers to developing nations to provide medical care. Telemedicine is used to connect volunteer doctors on the ground with radiologists, surgeons, pediatricians and other medical professionals from all over the world.

When a doctor or nurse at a project site needs support from a specialist, they use MSF’s secure telemedicine system. The request is transferred to one or more experts, who can review the patient information and any images, and offer their recommendations for further action.

MSF’s telemedicine system was initially created as separate English, French and Spanish networks, which were merged into a single multilingual platform in 2013 (press release). The MSF telemedicine system is based on the Collegium Telemedicus platform, which is used widely to support the delivery of health care in remote or low-resource settings.

Has Collegium Telemedicus been effective?

Over a four year period between 2010 and 2014, more than 1,000 cases from 41 countries were analyzed to evaluate the effectiveness of the telemedicine program. 300 field health workers and 250 radiology and medical experts were surveyed. Of the field workers surveyed, 91% found the advice of the experts to be helpful, and 94% felt that the advice had been adapted for their specific field environment.

Additionally, 81% of the field health workers responded that the experts’ advice improved their patient management processes. 94% would recommend the system to their colleagues in the medical field.

Overall, the technology has helped reduce the isolation of field workers by connecting them with their peers around the world. It has provided both clinical and educational value for all users. The system has proved to be reliable and efficient, as well as more secure than other communication formats.

What was HappyPorch’s role in Collegium Telemedicus?

HappyPorch began working on the Collegium Telemedicus software project on a pro bono basis with a view to improving the user interface and making it more suitable for mobile devices.

While running a profitable business is important, HappyPorch occasionally does work for free or at a greatly reduced cost when a project seems particularly impactful. For us, Collegium Telemedicus was one of those projects, and we have been delighted to provide advice on the user interface and more recently to support the development of the system. For more information on our pro bono philosophy, check out our pro bono page and our tips and resources for pursuing pro bono web development partnerships.

 

Here at HappyPorch, we are always eager to discuss new projects that can positively influence the world around us. Check out our services page to get a better idea of how we can help bring your vision to life, and then drop us a line to set up a quick and obligation-free chat.