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mHealth Gives Children a Reason to Smile

mHealth technology from Polycom and Microsoft is helping Operation Smile perform free surgeries on thousands of children across the globe.

By Eric Wicklund

- An mHealth partnership is quite literally bringing smiles to thousands of children around the world.

Videoconferencing and collaboration technology from Polycom and Microsoft is being used to improve surgeries, as well as pre- and post-operative care, conducted by Operation Smile, a Virginia-based international organization that provides free surgical procedures to children and young adults in underserved countries.

“it’s no longer a lot of faxes or e-mails or some voice on the other end of a telephone line,” said Ruben Ayala, MD, the organization’s senior vice president of medical affairs. “We can communicate in a very personal way. … The possibilities are now endless.”

Ayala spoke about the partnership via Polycom video feed at the recent American Telemedicine Association conference in Minneapolis. His host was Ron Emerson, the company’s Maine-based director of healthcare, who’d joined Ayala earlier this year in Colombia to see the mHealth platform installed at some new and existing health clinics.

“It was an incredible experience,” said Emerson, who’s also a registered nurse.

Launched in 1982 in Virginia Beach, Operation Smile has provided more than 220,000 free surgical procedures for children and young adults born with cleft palate, cleft lip and other facial problems. According to Ayala, the mHealth platforms supplied by Polycom and Microsoft since 2014 enable Operation Smile’s surgical staff to partner with and offer mentoring to local healthcare officials, collaborate with specialists when needed, and conduct more comprehensive examinations both before and after the surgery.

A recent donation of 50 Asus tablets from Slainte Healthcare is now helping to kickstart an electronic health record implementation across all Operation Smile sites. The organization is active in 60 countries, sometimes doing three surgeries at the same time in places as distant as Vietnam, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.

“We’re getting the best of humanity,” beamed Ayala, a Panamanian-born doctor who’d started as a volunteer translator for surgeons when he was 17. “And we’re focusing on children in the poorest countries in the world. We might be the first time they’ve ever even seen a doctor.”

Emerson said the technology platform enables Operation Smile staff and volunteers to interact in real-time, providing education on the latest procedures in maxillofacial surgery. They can even provide guidance during the surgery, and use telemedicine devices (such as rhinoscopes, laryngoscopes and hand-held cameras) during pre-screening and follow-up visits.

“You’re opening a window into the world,” said Ayala, who wants to expand the platform to treat more of the 200,000+ children born each year with facial deformities, and to teach students how they can offer their services to distant locations in need. “We want to inspire them to be good citizens (and) to make a difference where it’s needed.”

Dig Deeper:

A Global mHealth Project Sets its Sights on America’s Underserved

WHO Unveils Standards for Global mHealth Projects


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