Partnership brings mHealth to Louisiana

Physicians Interactive, Teche Action Board will provide mHealth tools to resource-poor Gulf Coast
By Eric Wicklund
10:36 AM

Three years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion caused an ecological nightmare along the Gulf Coast, a new partnership aims to bring mHealth tools to community health professionals to help improve healthcare and chart lingering issues related to the disaster.

Physicians Interactive, a Marlborough, Mass.-based developer of online and mobile clinical resources, has announced a partnership with the Teche Action Board to provide mobile devices backfilled with relevant clinical content through the Skyscape medical resource app to four parishes in southeastern Louisiana. The devices – primarily smartphones, tablets and iPod Touches – are to be used by community health professionals to treat residents in this underserved section of the country.

The devices are being supplied through Health eVillages, the program launched by Physicians Interactive in 2011 in conjunction with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights to provide mobile devices and content to other regions of the world affected by disaster or poor healthcare resources. Donato Tramuto, CEO and vice chairman of Physicians Interactive and founder and chairman of Health eVillages, said the Teche partnership was organized through the efforts of the RFK Center.

Tramuto, who has overseen successful Health eVillages projects in Haiti, Uganda, Kenya and China, said the Gulf Coast is not only resource-poor, but has suffered significantly in the wake of both Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Providing smartphones and tablets embedded with specific clinical content, he said, will help physicians, nurses and other health workers to not only treat people living along the coast, but identify and manage diseases and other health issues that may have been caused by these disasters.

"Who knows what's been going on down there?" he asked. "We need to get physicians in that area the mobile tools they need to expedite their diagnoses and treat their patients … and in doing so we'll also be collecting a lot of data."

The first Teche Action Clinic was opened in 1974 by volunteers to provide healthcare for seasonal sugar cane workers in the area. The non-profit organization now supports 10 clinics, serving some 18,000 residents along the four-state Gulf Coast. According to officials, a recent study by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) has indicated that 87 percent of those surveyed have experienced medical conditions "potentially linked to the oil spill and cleanup effort."

The project launched this month with a delivery of mobile devices to Teche's main clinic in Franklin, La. Tramuto expects to expand the partnership to all 10 Teche clinics in short order.

"The Teche community healthcare professionals are excited about the opportunity to be able to access the latest medical information through the Skyscape platform on these mobile devices being provided by Health eVillages," said Dr. Gary Wiltz, the CEO of the Teche Action Board, in an April 23 press release announcing partnership. "The mission of the Teche Action Clinics is to continually improve our ability to identify and eliminate the unique health disparities of the residents of St. Mary, St. John, St. James and Terrebone parishes. With these mobile technology resources now literally at our fingertips, the staff in our clinics will benefit from access to the latest medical developments, training materials and drug alerts and help improve the health and well-being of our patients and our community."

"Physicians Interactive is proud to support the caregivers at the Teche Action Board with the latest medical information and tools that will enable them to greatly improve outcomes for the thousands of patients who come through their doors each year," Tramuto added in the release. "Dr. Wiltz's dedicated team of community health professionals strives every day to provide excellent, comprehensive care for one of the most underserved areas in the U.S., and these tools will help empower them to accomplish that impressive goal."

In an interview earlier this week, Tramuto said Health eVillage's successes in other parts of the world – particularly in dealing with the effects of a deadly earthquake in Haiti and providing updated medical education resources for physicians in Africa – has opened the door to more programs in the future, including some in the United States. Another proposal for the Gulf Coast states is being considered, he said, and the organization is in serious talks with Partners in Health on other projects.

"There's a lot of networking that is going on," he said. "In the past we've maybe had too broad of a focus. We now want to narrow our focus, look at educational opportunities and … providing tailored information to those who need it the most."

"We've always had the saying, 'Think big, start small, execute quickly,'" he added.