Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Healthcare Deserts

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This is co-posted with Medicine in the Moment.

We hear frequent media reports on food deserts—rural towns or urban areas without access to fresh, nutritional and affordable food. Yet, healthcare deserts, an equally concerning crisis plaguing millions worldwide, seldom receive such exposure. Healthcare deserts are areas across the globe where quality healthcare is severely limited or is simply nonexistent.

The World Health Organization reports that, in 2012, citizens of Europe and the Americas were twice as likely to have access to physicians, two and a half times as likely to have access to nursing and midwifery personnel, and nearly six times as likely to have access to dentistry as compared to citizens in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Western Pacific. And, according to the U.S. Office of Rural Health Policy, 640 U.S. counties (about 20% of the nation’s 29,000 residential areas) are without quick access to an acute-care hospital. Problems are notable in cities such as Detroit, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., as well as rural areas of Texas, Georgia, and Mississippi.

When I founded Health eVillages, my vision was clear: to eradicate healthcare deserts by improving the quality of care in some of the poorest, most underserved areas. It was a lofty goal with widespread reach, one that would require a universal strategy that could be used by healthcare professionals worldwide. Our solution was mHealth technology—putting mobile devices into the hands of medical staff in clinically challenged areas, many of who still relied upon decades-old textbooks for diagnostic guidance.

Partnering with Physicians Interactive, we loaded iPhones and iPads with medical reference content and clinical decision support tools. We then traveled to clinics in developing countries, some without such basic infrastructure as electricity, to teach eager healthcare professionals how to use the technology. Because Internet access is not required, the devices can be used in the most remote regions of the globe to properly diagnose and treat patients.

To date, we have worked with medical professionals in coastal regions of Louisiana devastated by the Gulf oil spill and in hurricane-ravaged Haitian cities where water-based diseases have pummeled the population. We have partnered with clinicians in Kenya and Uganda and we will continue to expand our organization’s footprint this year as we develop impactful partnerships in India, China and South Africa.

One of the most salient examples of our mHealth successes comes from the healthcare desert surrounding Lwala, Kenya. After arming local physicians with mobile technology, the region’s infant mortality rate was cut in half. Building on the community’s victory, Physicians Interactive raised $150,000 to finance the construction of the first Health eVillage Maternity Clinic in Lwala.

This year I was named by the RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights as a 2014 Ripple of Hope honoree for my efforts in addressing the needs of the least advantaged across the globe. I am deeply humbled by this recognition and I am truly inspired by mHealth advances and success stories. I pledge to continue my fight against healthcare deserts to ensure that quality care is readily available to all, regardless of geography, as a right, not a privilege.

Author: Donato Tramuto, CEO and Chariman, Physicians Interactive

Physicians Interactive is a Gold Sponsor of this year's ePharma taking place February 24-26, 2015 in New York City.  As a reader of this blog, when you register to join us and mention code XP2000BL, you can save $100 off current rates!

Sources:
http://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/EN_WHS2014_Part3.pdf?ua=1 (pages 84 and 120, with attached spreadsheet calculations)
http://www.fiercehealthfinance.com/story/Alan-Sager-hospital-deserts-growing-problem-major-urban-centers/2013-05-21?page=0,2
http://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2013/11/13/more-hospitals-are-closing-and-its-creating-medical-deserts
http://www.cgdev.org/blog/hunger-haiti-aftermath-hurricane-sandy
http://www.healthevillages.org/health-evillages-raises-nearly-50000-to-serve-worlds-healthcare-deserts/
http://www.healthevillages.org/wp-content/themes/foundation/images/HeV_Brochure.pdf
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