Like a lot of people who watched coverage of the last year’s devastating earthquake in Haiti, New York-based integrator John Vitiello wanted to help.
He had no idea he would get the chance.
Vitiello owns the Tappan, N.Y.-based integration firm Alpine Home Media, an outfit that focuses on residential work, and it was one of those clients who drew him to Haiti. Sam Davis, an attorney who specializes in medical law and the founder of the non-profit charity Burn Advocates Network, convinced Vitiello to join him on a humanitarian mission to Haiti to explore telemedicine possibilities in the nation that continues to struggle with the devastating fallout from the earthquake and is hindered by an acute lack of resources and infrastructure.
Vitiello made that trip and now is in the process of installing a telemedicine system at the Justinian Hospital in Cap Haitien, connecting a hospital in Haiti’s second largest city to doctors in Portland, Maine, via video conferencing. With an outbreak of cholera adding to an already critical situation in Haitian hospitals, a telepresence relationship with U.S. doctors could prove invaluable.
As a residential integrator, Vitiello had zero experience designing and installing video conferencing systems but he had the background for it. “I used to work for Verizon, and I have telephone and audio/video experience,” he said.
So Vitiello began designing and planning a telemedicine solution for connecting the Justinian Hospital to doctors in Portland, chronicling the project on his foundation, Porsches to Plowshares Haitian Telemedicine Initiative, website.
At press time, the plan is for the entire project to be financed by Vitiello and his charity with the Internet connection paid for by Konbit Sante. “We’re donating the installation services and we may be donating the equipment if we can’t find manufacturers to donate it,” he says.
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The goal is to allow U.S.-based doctors to consult with Haitian doctors without traveling to Haiti. The library in Cap Haitien’s Justinian Hospital was chosen as the best telepresence environment. “It is secure, centrally located, has a good Intranet connection and is available for conferences at convenient times throughout the week,” writes Vitello on his site.
“Simplicity and durability are key to virtually any initiative in Haiti and that is especially true with delicate technical equipment,” he says. “We will also need a strong Internet connection and a robust power filter to protect the equipment from constant power fluctuations and rolling blackouts that plague Haiti.”
Vitiello details many integration challenges on his site - the hospital’s generally unreliable Internet connection, the likelihood that a handheld remote would go missing, the coordination of schedules between Haitian medical staffs and U.S. doctors and more.
Subsequent phases of the project will allow U.S. doctors to do more than simply consult with Haitian doctors. Peripheral cameras and medical data acquisition devices will be added so that U.S. doctors can interact directly with patients in their Haitian hospital rooms.
The big question, of course, is how much U.S. doctors can actually help the effort in Haiti via videoconferencing.
Vitiello’s telepresence solution will have “a very large impact,” says John T. Devlin, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and clinical investigator for Maine Medical Center, Center for Outcomes Research and Evaluation..
Devlin and Vitiello both say there are countless U.S. and Canadian doctors, some with ties to Haiti, who would like to dedicate themselves to treating Haitian patients. Travel, of course, is an obvious obstacle.
“Many clinicians in the U.S. can only travel to Haiti infrequently - every 1-2 years - but would like to participate in the educational programs at JUH in Cap Haitien,” Devlin says.
“Whenever our doctors and nurses travel to Haiti to give lectures, they are uniformly very well-received, and the demand is always for more. Telemedicine could create an opportunity to develop an ongoing curriculum to provide content throughout the year, and meeting the needs for a formal educational program covering all/ most sub-specialties in medicine, something that is sorely needed.”
Check out the Porsches to Plowshares site site to learn more about the Haitian Telemedicine Initiative.