HBS students rely on iPhones to organize their life, track appointments during the day and remain connected to news and email at all times – but have you ever considered how an iPhone could be used to serve patients and reunite families in a post-disaster environment like Haiti?
Arriving in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic three days after the Haiti earthquake, Seth Moulton (NB) joined a team of two Harvard-affiliated physicians as part of an Operational Medicine Institute (OMI) mission. OMI is a non-profit organization affiliated with the Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians out of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. OMI serves a unique and necessary function in disaster recovery efforts by carving structure out of chaos – in this case, providing an incident command structure to organize the volunteers, supplies and resources flowing into and out of Haiti.
Amidst the unending flow of injured Haitians seeking medical treatment and searching for lost family members, Dr. Elizabeth Coté, Dr. David Callaway and Seth recognized an opportunity to use technology to provide a simple solution to a complex problem.
Acknowledging a Need, Locating a Solution
Calling for an easy-to-use, affordable technology solution quickly brought attention to this trio of Harvard Fellows, particularly by the United Nations’ Technology Sub-cluster. The UN Tech Sub-cluster tasked OMI as the lead to investigate existing IT solutions for patient management in the Haiti theater. As part of this mandate, OMI’s job was to lead a pilot team using an existing iPhone application to track patients at a rapidly expanding field hospital in Fond Parisien, a town in Haiti near the border with the Dominican Republic.
While Dr. Coté remained at the Fond Parisien hospital facility, Dr. Callaway and Seth returned to Boston. Dr. Callaway worked to promote OMI’s effectiveness and Seth focused on driving this technology product development forward. Through gracious support from the Zuckerman Fellows community and personal connections, Seth marshaled a team of tech programmers to modify an existing iPhone application, in addition to exploring other electronic data tracking products to meet the criteria of being effective on the ground in Haiti.
A Pilot Project Proves Worthy
Patient tracking is especially important for vulnerable populations in Haiti: unaccompanied minors who lost or were separated from their parents in the earthquake, amputees who lost their mobility, pregnant women, and those who underwent external fixation operations for fractures all need special monitoring for their safety and future rehabilitation. Technology can provide short- and long-term solutions for these patients. Toff Peabody and Ari Hoffman of UCSF, who most recently served in Haiti on an OMI mission team to continue patient data collection system trials, relayed the following story:
Using an iPhone to reunite an Unaccompanied Minor with his family
On February 13, a 13-year-old boy was transferred back to Haiti from a field hospital in Jimani, Dominican Republic. He was presumed an orphan, with very little known background. While staying in Jimani, two single mothers took him under their joint care, in addition to caring for their own toddlers. They were all transferred to our hospital, and the boy was placed into our iPhone’s 911 category, a medical record number signifying an unaccompanied minor.
After speaking with the team and the boy, one of the mothers realized that she was from the same neighborhood in Port-Au-Prince. With a little pocket money and some help from the staff, she left her child in the care of the other mom and traveled hours to locate this boy’s family. She returned to Fond Parisien the next day, holding the birth certificate of the boy as proof that she had found his father. He had been living amidst the rubble of Port-Au-Prince, carrying his son’s identification with him in hope of finding his boy somewhere. And now, more than one month after the earthquake, he is able to hold his son again.
What We Aim to Prove and How You Can Help
While OMI’s typical mission is to provide short- to mid-term stability to a post-disaster environment, the success of the HIT Rescue pilot in its use in Haiti hospitals has provided a unique opportunity. Led by Dr. Dave Callaway, OMI maintains a presence on the ground with medical professionals and trained physicians to provide care. Physicians have found the HIT Rescue product easy to use and effective. The HIT Rescue pilot is meeting its goals of providing an accessible database of patient history to provide treatment at the point of care – as well as assist in reuniting communities scattered among the refugee villages now established among the Haiti landscape.
As we have seen via TV and the internet, technology has proven extremely helpful in understanding the extent of damage and need for support to rebuild Haiti. HIT Rescue seeks to develop a lasting tool that more closely connects doctors to patients – and hopefully, patients with their families and communities.
Through a steady trickle of small donations, our endeavor will continue to have a lasting impact in the Haitian recovery. Please see more of our story at //opmedinstitute.org/haiti/ and consider donating. All proceeds go directly to this actionable, on-the-ground project. Please feel free to email us with your questions, interest in volunteering to increase awareness of HIT Rescue, and other feedback at email@example.com.
Seth Moulton (NB), Brett Gibson (NC) and Katie Laidlaw (OI) are HBS students working with OMI on the HIT Rescue project. Read more at blog.opmedinstitute.org.