Telehealth Traverses the Globe

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The Games of the 31st Olympiad are well underway, with the world’s gaze now fixed on the bustling urban coastlines of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As many are well aware, the months leading up to the launch of the most celebrated fortnight in sports were met with concerns over the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Fortunately, efforts by Games organizers – as well as cooler temperatures – have in large part diffused much of that apprehension. Nevertheless, there is still much to be done to ensure the establishment of proper access to care. Telemedicine services offer one such solution by addressing logistical barriers that would otherwise remain in place. Now, as strides are made in technological innovation and costs diminish, a number of programs have been successful in targeting near-inaccessible populations across the globe.

One such program has specifically been developed to connect pediatric cardiologists in Brazil with over 127,000 patients across the country; many of whom suffer from a number of birth defects, such as microcephaly. Led by Dr. Sandra Mattos, this aptly named Heart Network comprises 22 regional hospitals and over 100 specialists devoted to delivering around-the-clock care to patients, aided by “echo taxis,” or vehicles outfitted with the necessary equipment to provide services in remote communities. This program was fully functional prior to the Zika outbreak, and is now additionally utilized by neurologists and other health officials to track and treat Zika-related birth defects.

Across the Atlantic, a new “telepathology” program has also found success in linking US-based cancer specialists with patients in the far reaches of Rwanda. With many African populations left with little or no access to medical care – and knowledge that an early cancer diagnosis can be critical for effective treatment – the platform works in conjunction with GE Healthcare technology to collect biopsies that can then be examined by pathologists in the States. This kind of innovation is critical for communities that might only average one pathologist per million people, as opposed to one per 20,000 in the US. With more program sites set to launch in Uganda, Botswana, Swaziland, Liberia, and Haiti, threats like Zika or cancer are swiftly being addressed by telemedicine.