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UI tech workers improve Haiti patient care

BY MICHAEL KADRIE | DECEMBER 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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Recent improvements to a database software that collects patient information in Haiti, developed by members of University of Iowa Information Technology Services, allow volunteer health workers to better gather information on HIV patients in Haiti.

Doctors can now better track the progress of individual patients and follow up with them after their regular absences from Haiti. This can mean the difference between life and death for some Haitians.

This technology was developed between September and December 2012, and it is continually updated to keep up with the clinic’s needs.

Most recently, IT workers added parameters to aid in the collection of information regarding HIV in Haiti.

“[IT] seems kind of dorky, but it’s the kind of stuff that may change the world,” said UI Clinical Associate Professor of emergency medicine Chris Buresh.

UI senior IT support consultant Stephen Yagla met Buresh at an interfaith luncheon at which the latter gave the talk “Where was God in the Rubble?,” about efforts to provide medical care to impoverished Haitians.

Yagla was so inspired he immediately approached Buresh to find out what he could contribute despite his lack of medical skills.

Buresh said people speaking to him about getting involved often express a similar worry regarding their deficit of medical knowledge.

Yagla ended up joining Buresh on a trip to Haiti in January 2012 and noticed problems with the collection of patient data.

Buresh said the clinic originally used simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and pieces of cardstock, which patients were required to bring with for each visit. He said they only brought the pieces of paper back 5 percent of the time.

“With the format [they were using], they were never going to be able to use all the data,” Yagla said.

Upon his return, he began to collaborate with ITS workers Steve Bowers and Ted Fitzgerald over their lunch breaks to solve the problem.

They decided to use Apple's FileMaker to create a database system simple enough that it could be taught to people in two to three hours. Yagla combined letters from Fitzgerald and Bowers’ names to come up with an easy-to-say moniker for the system, TEBOW.

“It’s a client-server application … one server being used by multiple people,” Fitzgerald said.

TEBOW uses three distinct pieces of information to collate patients with their medical data.

Patients have their photographs taken with an iPhone, their name and phone number recorded, and they are given unique patient identification numbers. The system is compatible with Windows and Apple devices, running on a combination of iPhones, iPads and laptops.

“It’s amazing how powerful [TEBOW] is and how much it helps,” Buresh said.

He said the clinics use it to set up maps tracking patients in need of chronic care, so they can record trends, measure their efficacy, and provide information to native health-care workers. Individuals with chronic conditions make up 95 percent of the patients they see.

Teams of doctors visit Haiti about five times a year.

Having TEBOW allows volunteers to gather useful data on trends in public health and provides a tangible sense of progress. For instance, it makes it much easier to order the correct amount of medication required for each return trip.

“It’s critical that we can prove to ourselves and everyone else that we’re not wasting our time and money,” Buresh said.

Yagla, Fitzgerald, and Bowers continue to modify the software to improve and refine the handling of specific kinds of data.

“[TEBOW] has definitely changed the way I look at what we do and changed the way I look at people in IT,” Buresh said.


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