Tuesday, March 17, 2009

PDA's Helping Patients

Faculty members at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology along with Brigham and Women’s Hospital recently launched a project in Lima Peru. The group worked closely with the Peruvian sister organization of Partners in Health, Socios enSalud.

Healthcare workers were equipped with PDAs which made it possible for doctors to receive their patient’s test results in just 8 days and eliminated the few cases where results were missing for several weeks or months. The handheld devices are also more cost effective than the paper based system as reported in the “International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.”

For patients who have drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, it is critical to monitor the disease as closely as possible. This means that monthly testing needs to be done for two years six days a week for the first six months.

Under the old patient tracking system, a team of four healthcare workers would visit more than 100 healthcare centers and labs twice a week to record patient test results on paper sheet. A couple of times a week, they returned to their main office to transcribe those results onto two sets of forms per patent. One form went to the doctor and the other form went to healthcare administrators.

From start to finish, this process took an average of more than three weeks per patient. In some extreme cases, results were temporarily misplaced and could take up to three months to be recorded. There was also greater potential for error because information was copied by hand so many times.

With the new system, healthcare workers enter the lab data into their handheld devices, using medical software designed for this purpose. When the workers return to their offices they sync up the PDAs with their computers.