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Saving Lives From Afar: Bridging The Knowledge (& Distance) Gaps In Health Care With The Cloud

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It was a child who nearly died that made me realize just how drastically my profession had to change.

As the chief of critical care medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, I get plenty of calls from colleagues worldwide in need of advice. This particular call came from a hospital in Guatemala City, where a young girl lay gravely ill with a serious blood stream infection.

Luckily, I -- and a team of doctors and nurses -- had recently managed to bring back from the brink another little girl in Boston suffering from the same illness.

I was relieved that our experience meant a doctor half a world away could save a child's life. But I also realized that the health of the world's children shouldn't come down to chance.

My profession needs a new approach to tackling the inadequate health care that children get worldwide because of global shortage of qualified health care workers. We have to do more to share the knowledge pent up in a few nations and hospitals, primarily in the West.

That's why my hospital, in partnership with IBM, created OPENPediatrics, the world's first global education network for physicians and nurses that is designed to transform how pediatric medicine is taught and practiced around the world.

Why?

Because nearly 8 million children died in 2010 before reaching the age of five, in large part because of imminently treatable illnesses such as pneumonia, diarrhea, and birth complications.

Because 57 countries globally are facing a human resources health crisis and of those countries, each only has 1.13 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, compared with 13.22 per 1,000 in the U.S.

Because there are few if any trained pediatricians in most developing countries. Niger, a country with 6.6 million children, only counts 30 pediatricians.

Housed in the cloud, available through desktop computers and grounded in social communities, OPENPediatrics is aimed squarely at creating a broad, skilled pediatric workforce worldwide -- one that could have a dramatic and sustained impact on the quality of life for children around the world.

OPENPediatrics doesn't just dish up most recent research and data on life-saving treatments to doctors and nurses around the world. It equips them with online tools, including video and simulation technologies, to help them master critical medical procedures and techniques. Further, it creates a global community of experts, including physicians and nurses who can share best practices and insights, using analytics to match expertise with need.

Though it's just getting started by initially being rolled out to some 1,000 doctors and nurses in 74 countries, OPENPediatrics is already chalking up real results. To wit, helping a doctor in Israel master a crucial procedure and assure adequate nutrition and hydration using the service's video demonstrations; teaching physicians at the Fundación Aldo Castañeda in Guatemala new ways to avoid infections, resulting in a new infection prevention program; becoming a standard part of training for fellows and residents at the Institute Giannina Gaslini in Genoa.

And in that way, it's already on the right track. Because the whole point of OPENPediatrics is to connect us, to sweep away those bottlenecks that keep life-saving information from getting to doctors and nurses who most desperately need it. It's not a panacea. It won't cure all problems children face, but it's an extraordinary start.



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