U of Virginia brings Ebola treatment to Africa via telehealth

When Western Africa was facing its Ebola crisis from 2014-16, the University of Virginia Health System sprang into action to expand its outreach efforts, ZDNet reports.

UVA already sends physicians to developing nations, but in the Ebola hot zone, health staff quickly realized a key problem with treating Ebola patients. Ebola patients must be treated without contacting other people, and all visitors or treating physicians were required to wear personal protective equipment.

"We do a lot of international outreach, just the university's mission as far as global is we have so many physicians that travel in different places. It was through one of those connections we had a physician that was back, and we were sitting in our conference room just talking, and she was talking about the isolation, and we had never thought about it," Brian Gunnell, senior collaborative systems engineer at UVA’s Karen S. Rheuban Center for Telehealth, told ZDNet.

The hospital came up with a solution that used inexpensive birdhouse cameras, portable DVD players, cabling, low-power consumption devices and solar panels to help its traveling physicians better treat patients in isolation. This idea quickly helped UVA realize it could treat these patients remotely.

UVA set up Cisco infrastructure and connected its U.S.-based care teams with those in West Africa. Physicians treating Ebola patients there could hold vials of medical tests up to cameras for the physicians in the U.S. to analyze and make decisions. This saved the physicians in Africa nearly 45 minutes since they wouldn't have to take off their gear to study and communicate with their peers.

"This was really our first effort that we were providing a very large communications structure with inside of our organization to help support the service lines for us, and the use cases just really started to kind of fall out all over the place," Mr. Gunnell said.

From there, the program only grew. UVA went on to use its telehealth expertise during the Charlottesville protests in August 2017, and it also helps treat stroke patients en route to the hospital via telestroke capabilities. Since its inception, UVA's telehealth efforts have helped save patients from traveling 17 million miles, Mr. Gunnell said.

More articles on telehealth:
FCC votes to raise rural telehealth funding by $171M
Florida Hospital partners with telemedicine company to bring services to Puerto Rico
Bipartisan Senators propose eTREAT Act, a telehealth bill for addiction treatment

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