Practicing medicine without borders: tele-consultations and tele-mentoring for improving paediatric care in a conflict setting in Somalia?

Authors: R. Zachariah , B. Bienvenue , L. Ayada , M. Manzi , A. Maalim , E. Engy , J. P. Jemmy , A. Ibrahim Said , A. Hassan , F. Abdulrahaman , O. Abdulrahman , J. Bseiso , H. Amin , D. Michalski , J. Oberreit ,  B. Draguez , C. Stokes , T. Reid1 and A. D. Harries.
Abstract: Objectives In a district hospital in conflict-torn Somalia, we assessed (i) the impact of introducing telemedicine on the quality of paediatric care, and (ii) the added value as perceived by local clinicians. methods A ‘real-time’ audio-visual exchange of information on paediatric cases (Audiosoft Technologies, Quebec, Canada) took place between clinicians in Somalia and a paediatrician in Nairobi. The study involved a retrospective analysis of programme data, and a perception study among the local clinicians. results Of 3920 paediatric admissions, 346 (9%) were referred for telemedicine. In 222 (64%) children, a significant change was made to initial case management, while in 88 (25%), a life-threatening condition was detected that had been initially missed. There was a progressive improvement in the capacity of clinicians to manage complicated cases as demonstrated by a significant linear decrease in changes to initial case management for meningitis and convulsions (92–29%, P = 0.001), lower respiratory tract infection (75–45%, P = 0.02) and complicated malnutrition (86–40%, P = 0.002). Adverse outcomes (deaths and lost to follow-up) fell from 7.6% in 2010 (without telemedicine) to 5.4% in 2011 with telemedicine (30% reduction, odds ratio 0.70, 95% CI: 0.57–0.88, P = )0.001). The number needed to be treated through telemedicine to prevent one adverse outcome was 45. All seven clinicians involved with telemedicine rated it to be of high added value. conclusion The introduction of telemedicine significantly improved quality of paediatric care in a remote conflict setting and was of high added value to distant clinicians.

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