I have heard a lot about organizations that attempt to establish telemedicine programs using live satellite video feeds that ultimately fail not because of a lack of commitment but because it is technically impossible or prohibitively expensive to establish a system that can support such a program. The Swinfen Charitable Trust relies on good old email to get the job done. With a digital camera and access to email it seems that doctors around the world have been able to save and improve numerous lives. Here are some excerpts from International Herald Tribune article about the organization :
Since 1998, the Swinfen Charitable Trust has worked worldwide, from Antarctica to the Solomon Islands. With a roster of more than 380 Western doctors, they provide a free, medical match-making service that helps doctors and patients with few options.
The charity uses a basic version of telemedicine. Doctors are given a digital camera, and e-mail photos, a patient history and any other relevant material, like X-rays, to the Swinfens. The couple then forwards those requests to one or more volunteer doctors, who usually respond within two days.
In the last few years, nearly one-fifth of the Swinfen charity’s cases have come from Iraq. Nearly 40 hospitals across the country are now linked to the network, and some doctors said the charity is more useful than traditional U.N. aid organizations.
I really like that last line – “more useful than traditional UN agencies”. Having worked there myself and now with friends in Iraq I fully support any program that will decrease the hazard factor for aid workers while increasing the efficiency of local health care providers. Iraqi doctors are incredibly competent, professional and well trained individuals and I saw first hand how, with a little technology, they could make a massive difference in their patients’ lives.