Last November I had the opportunity to attend a Mission in Vietnam with Operation Smile, which coincided with the 25th Anniversary of Operation Smile running missions there. A mission could almost be envisaged like a small hospital; doctors, surgeons, nurses and administrative volunteers with medical supplies from all over the world. They set up and work from a temporary location for between one and two weeks, screening and operating on children with cleft lip and palate deformities.
I was posted at the Hanoi site where we used an old hospital as our base. This was one of six sites running simultaneously, comprising a Vietnam “Mega-Mission”. There were numerous nationalities represented from the four corners of the globe and the mood on the first day was one of excitement and togetherness, which would be needed for the hectic screening days that were to follow.
My role is that of the Apps Lead and my purpose on the mission was to oversee and support both the end users and technical team in their use of our platform Vitro, Operation Smile’s Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system. At the heart of Vitro is a suite of Apps that replace the current paper forms used to capture patient information. These Apps range from screening the patient to scheduling them for surgery along with all the supporting information required for surgery, and everything in between. We performed a full electronic screening of almost 300 patients over the space of one and a half days.
For this mission each station that the patient visited needed between 2-3 devices, mostly ASUS tablets, each connecting to the server over a Wi-Fi connection. It is important to note that the technical infrastructure at each individual mission, sometimes in very remote corners of the earth, is different, so the need for flexibility within Vitro to manage limited or in some cases no IT infrastructure is crucial.
The area in the hospital we were set up in had some connectivity challenges, undoubtedly caused by the 2m thick concrete walls separating each room. Include a couple of hundred patients accompanied by their families; mothers, fathers and grandparents and you have quite a challenging environment! The feedback from all the end users, most of whom had never seen Vitro before was extremely positive, with each of them enthusiastic about the advantages that this type of system can provide to them. Seeing a system was that is intuitive and needed almost no training really set it apart from other systems they used. Apart from the well documented advantages that an EMR system brings over paper, another major advantage for Operation Smile was that we saved a huge amount of time by eliminating a data entry piece of work done on all missions, i.e. transcribing all the paper charts into a database. Using Vitro this data can now be captured electronically directly onto mobile devices.
The work that Operation Smile does is amazing. Within the space of a 45 minute operation a child’s life is completely transformed. Patients present mainly with cleft lip and cleft palate but also asymmetrical noses and other facial deformities. The operations that are performed by some of the finest healthcare professionals in the world are so much more than for cosmetic purposes. Cleft lip and cleft palate impair speech and feeding amongst other things, which can cause social avoidance and malnourishment and really hamper the quality of lives of these children. Vitro was adopted within hours by more than 50 volunteers with little to no training, of the 300 patients screened within 48 hours, 130 received surgery.
The operations and follow up care go a long way to enhancing the patients’ quality of life and are all provided completely free of charge by Operation Smile and their thousands of volunteers.
I have to say that anyone who has the opportunity to go on an Operation Smile mission will be blown away by the dedication and enthusiasm shown by all the volunteers. The work we are doing is increasing the quality of life to children all over the world which is an extremely rewarding experience and I am proud to have been part of the Operation Smile Vietnam team, helping to put smiles back on children all around the globe.
Vietnam, November 2014
For more information on Operation Smile and becoming a volunteer visit www.operationsmile.ie