I love it when different parts of my life come together in interesting ways, and I get to play “connect the dots,” trying to understand what new insight might be had. Whether in my professional, personal, or community service roles, it seems everywhere I turn I’m hearing about the future of technology in healthcare and its potential impact on not just our health, but our overall well-being.
I was recently startled, amazed, and slightly terrified when I heard Vivek Wadhwa, a renowned technical entrepreneur, futurist, researcher, author and scholar speak about the exponential growth of technology (computing power doubles every 18 months!) and his prediction that artificial intelligence physicians are on the way. As I listened in amazement (and with a little bone-chilling concern, as well) I imagined a world where life-saving information is instantaneously synthesized, analyzed and perhaps even delivered via AI physicians; I couldn’t help but wonder what this would mean to humanity? Where would compassion fit, if at all, in this “new” paradigm? Then, a few weeks later during my visit to our Health eVillages programs in Kenya, I realized that compassion is the best critical balance to technology, and it is alive and well with our programs.
Our first stop was at Jacaranda Health, where the primary focus is ensuring safe delivery for both mother and child, in a “low resource” environment. With a team of 25 nurses’ midwives, a clinical officer, chief medical officer, and the recent addition of a clinical educator, Jacaranda Maternity provides high quality and low cost maternal care. Also, it is committed to ensuring that their care providers have the knowledge—and the compassion—necessary to deliver respectful care to their clients. Although certainly emergencies occur, the majority of the mothers arrive relatively healthy, and so Jacaranda’s leadership key in on nurse and midwifery education, compliance to protocol, and will soon emphasize patient education. Aided by Health eVillages’ technology, provided through Aptus Health, the caregivers at Jacaranda Health not only deliver healthier babies but also feel the satisfaction of making a difference—their annual turnover rate for midwives is less than 5% which is unheard of in this challenging role. Their delivery of care with compassion not only saves lives—it enriches their own.
Our next stop was the Lwala Community Alliance (LCA), and before we were even out of the car, we were enveloped in a throng of singing, dancing, clapping women, welcoming us with a song, and embracing us with hugs. These wonderful, vibrant women were LCA’s community health workers, some of whom are living with HIV themselves, and who would soon benefit from Health eVillages’ contribution of another 20+ content filled tablets. Armed with our technology and content, the Lwala team has already delivered amazing outcomes: in just a few short years infant mortality has been cut in half, 97% of deliveries are with the aid of a skilled healthcare worker in the hospital, HIV transfer from mother to child has virtually been eliminated, and with the recent introduction of their “Thrive thru Five” program, the mortality rate for children under the age of 5 has been slashed from 60 per 1000 to 25 per 1000. Again, technology and content played a significant role in these incredible results, but it is the love and the compassion of the Lwala team that really makes “healing the villages” a reality—something that can’t ever be replicated with artificial intelligence.
After touring the hospital, much of which Health eVillages (through the generous support of many of you!) helped fund, we had the opportunity to visit the village to meet other members of the community. Again, the warmth of their welcome was wonderful, and their gratitude for our support and concern was humbling. Although the children were a bit shy, they enjoyed seeing their photos on my tablet, so they let me hang out with them a bit. As I did so, watching a scraggly, skinny little puppy running away from me to play with “his boy” and chew on his shoe, I realized that there are some things that are the same all over the world—such as the love between a boy and his dog. Again, compassion in action.
Our final stop on this journey was Kijabe Hospital, where under the leadership of Dr. Mark Newton, future anesthesiologists from throughout East African complete an intense 18-month training program, and then return to the remote areas of their respective countries to provide this incredibly under-resourced service. (Some of Dr. Newton’s graduates have become the only skilled source of anesthesia for their entire countries.) We witnessed firsthand Omnio, the decision support tool provided to Health eVillages through Aptus Health, in action in the OR; we heard from a student about his reliance on his Health eVillages tablet, who emphasized that 14+ medical reference books won’t fit in his backpack, much less in surgery; we heard how just that very morning the anesthesiology team used their tablet to reference an unusual situation during surgery, then took appropriate action, and had a very positive outcome. To read about these stories in a blog is one thing. But, to hear the actual clinicians speak about them and to feel their passion for what they do, and the tremendous gratitude for what Health eVillages provides, is another. I marveled at the commitment and sacrifice many of the Kijabe team had made—in some cases leaving family and community, in other cases leaving high-powered roles in major hospitals around Africa—and can only come back to the idea of compassion and the need to help others—something that I don’t think we’ll ever find in the world of artificial intelligence or pure technology.
After visiting these locations, I found myself working to connect the dots between Jacaranda with their continuous raising of the standard of care to mothers and babies, LCA with their community outreach and their focus on keeping the young children alive and thriving, and the commitment to train anesthesiologists to deliver the highest levels of respectful care in Kijabe Hospital. Yes, technology and content is a common factor, but the overpowering, compelling theme to all of this is compassion—something that doesn’t exist within the technology itself, and that can only come through our humanity. I absolutely believe that technology will play an ever-increasing role in the delivery of healthcare and positive outcomes. Also, I remain convinced that compassion will and must remain at the center of true “care.” As stated in a paper from England recently, “Most important of all, the NHS [National Health Service] could employ hundreds of thousands of staff with the right technological skills, but without the compassion to care, then we will have failed to meet the needs of patients.” From my personal observation, this is not a challenge for Jacaranda Health, Lwala Community Alliance or Kijabe Hospital.
Through Health eVillages, we provide desperately needed clinical resources and decision support tools through mobile devices. But this technology is just a tool. To truly “heal the villages,” we must have a more holistic approach with the community, connection, and certainly with compassion. We are fortunate that there are people throughout the world who embody this humanity, and put it to work for the care of others. And, if I find myself ever doubting the need—and existence—of compassionate humanity, I will simply think of that young boy in Lwala and his skinny little pup at play, and I will smile and believe once again.
For more insight on compassion (and the related health & wellness benefits!), check this out: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/compassion/definition