Thursday, June 24, 2010

Volunteers Use High Tech PDAs in Humanitarian Effort

The first thing a visitor sees at a typical MedCAP (Medical Civic Assistance Project) site in Vietnam or Cambodia is the iron gate of the building complex swung wide open, with hundreds of local people moving in and out. Inside the walled courtyard is a crowd roving among security personnel, and then a line of people waiting for their turn at one of the tables with a smiling intake staff person holding a high tech device. That would be the PDA for the CHIME system: it is the symbol and the reality of step one in a patient’s long-awaited day of accessing health care providers from the Pacific Partnership 2010. The automated system provides patient tracking at triage, assessment, diagnosis and treatment stages.

Initially, basic information is collected; and the patient is given a wristband with a unique bar code. At subsequent steps, the barcode is swiped so any data can be read and used. And after the patient is seen, new data gets entered. For example, a nurse weighs the patient and enters the weight on their handheld PDA. When the patient reaches the doctor’s office, the data gathered so far are used to help with the diagnosis and treatment plan, each of which is also entered.

Any medications prescribed are entered as well; and, in the best case, these can be waiting at the pharmacy area all ready with translated labels. The aura of the highly visible technology at each step seems to work a little magic of its own as it heightens the credibility of the service providers.

CHIME is among the newer of the many acronyms that pervade life on a Navy ship: Civil and Humanitarian Information Management—Expeditionary. At the MedCAP site the central piece of the technology is an In-field Server that collects data from the separate units: Triage, Primary Care, Dental, Optometry, Physical Therapy, Surgery, and Radiology. Pacific Partnership 2010 is a beta test site for the CHIME system, which was previously tried by NGOs in Haiti, by the American Red Cross at Hurricane Katrina, and by Continuing Promise 2009 among others.

From a managerial perspective, the system standardizes data collection and sharing in a paperless way. Beyond that, it also makes possible the consolidation of the information in “real time” for planning purposes locally or at a distance at a higher level in the command. The information gathered can be used for evaluation and planning, duly combined with qualitative and financial and other types of data. CHIME assists with one set of considerations about the impact of the mission on the people of the region.

When a tired doctor makes it back to the mess hall of the USNS Mercy at the end of a long day at the MedCAP and talks about the pros and cons of having seen 110 patients, the facts are a matter of record.

Thanks for reading - Mary Hamill, Ph.D., Project HOPE PAO

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