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University of Miami Field Hospital in Haiti Establishes Telemedicine with Support from Swinfen Charitable Trust

3/8/2010

The University of Miami's relief effort in Haiti is expanding its reach with the help of telemedicine and the generosity of an international trust. UM's TeleHealth Program has forged an agreement with the Swinfen Charitable Trust (SCT) to use its web-based telemedicine system for specialty consultation for patients at the University of Miami Hospital in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Consultations will be provided by physicians from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the University of Virginia (UVA) Health System, who are already part of the Swinfen global consultant network.

The Swinfen Charitable Trust was set up by Lord and Lady Swinfen of the United Kingdom in 1998, with the aim of assisting poor, sick and disabled people in the developing world. The Trust facilitates a low-cost telemedicine service linking doctors at hospitals in the developing world with leading medical and surgical consultants. For the hundreds of thousands of Haitians injured in the January earthquake, it will connect physicians on the ground with specialists in a multitude of disciplines at UM and UVA.

Anne E. Burdick, M.D., M.P.H., associate dean for telehealth and clinical outreach at the Miller School and longtime consultant to SCT, says being able to use a low bandwidth system is beneficial as Haiti recovers from the massive earthquake. "Because so much of Haiti's communications infrastructure has been destroyed," says Burdick, "finding alternative methods to transmit medical information has become crucial."

The Trust uses a secure web-based messaging system which enables doctors in Haiti to send clinical photos, a patient's history and other relevant material, such as X-rays and scans, to specialists at UM and UVA. Those physicians are then able to confer and offer expert medical advice on each case, free of charge.

UVA physicians have partnered with Swinfen since March 2008 and will now be using the service to remotely "see" patients at the University of Miami's field hospital. University of Miami Health System and UVA physicians will be available to provide guidance and second opinions for the doctors treating patients on the ground in Haiti.

Lord Roger Swinfen says using a web-based secure system has allowed the Trust to have a global impact by making these tele-consultations among 58 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. "We are extremely pleased to be given an opportunity to assist in Haiti," says Swinfen.

"So many patients in Haiti are in desperate need for specialty care, with few such specialists available," said Karen Rheuban, M.D., medical director of UVA's Office of Telemedicine and President of the American Telemedicine Association. "This partnership with the University of Miami and an expansion of our longstanding partnership with the Swinfen Trust will provide many patients with the expertise they need."

These remote consultations also provide a method to expand the volunteer effort in Haiti. Many UM physicians have wanted to assist but have been unable to leave their practice in the United States. UM's TeleHealth Program director, Scott C. Simmons, M.S., says physicians can now volunteer their expertise without the logistics and time commitment of traveling to Haiti. "Each physician can lend his or her expertise on a case by case basis, exactly when needed, giving patients access to specialists that wouldn't normally be available," says Simmons.