Pioneering Technology

Posted on October 10, 2017 /

Screening patients for surgery with the Africa Mercy comes with its challenges. Each year thousands of local people, who have been suffering with numerous conditions, can spend days waiting in line with the hope of being selected for life-saving surgery.

Keeping up with technology, Mercy Ships uses a phone app during the screening process.

Keeping up with technology, Mercy Ships uses a phone app during the screening process.

In order to make the registration system work more effectively and to reach more people in need, Mercy Ships needed to come up with a solution to save time, energy and ensure a smoother journey for patients. The answer to that came with the in-house design, proposal and ultimate roll out of a screening mobile app.

By request of the Cameroonian government, all 10 regions of the country were to be equally represented during this field service. This meant revolutionizing the way patients have been screened for 2017/18, putting the emphasis on both the government and Mercy Ships to find those who need help. Screening in this way takes the pressure off the patient trying to reach the ship, which in many cases just isn’t possible due to money, time away from family or being forced to come out of hiding. Prior to the upcoming field service in Cameroon, the app was used in the first round of screening to identify 100% of patients who may be eligible for surgery. Those without access to travel or local information were then able to hear about the possible help available to them through the work of Mercy Ships.

In partnership with the government, Mercy Ships provided mobile phones and software training to 30 local healthcare professionals. These professionals searched the entire country prior to the ship’s arrival looking for people who might benefit from surgery; and search they certainly did- with over 11,000 potential patients registered after the initial five week referral period.

Screening Supervisor Nate Claus has been part of the app’s development process using software provider Zerion iFormbuilder. He believes it helped ensure the government’s request for equal opportunities across the entire country was more achievable: “I was really impressed with the local government with regards to quality and fairness and what they feel is right to do as it matches up with our values here at Mercy Ships.”

“The software we are now using gives us far more data so we can see that 90% of our patients are coming from outside of the port city. It’s also given us a database of need that we didn’t have before.” This allows for better tracking of a country’s current healthcare status which Nate hopes will be utilized by the Ministry of Health for referrals to other non-governmental organizations.

The app has the ability to capture the patient's demographic information and medical/surgey history, along with up to 4 photos.

The app has the ability to capture the patient’s demographic information and medical/surgery history, along with up to 4 photos.

For the likes of Victor, the app is the first step towards changing his future and has enabled him to be identified well before the arrival of the Africa Mercy. His demographic information, medical history and photographs were all captured and sent to a team of medical professionals onboard. They in turn selected him as a potential patient for the second stage of screening, saving him time, money and unnecessary travel.

Digitalizing part of the screening process has enabled Mercy Ships to cast a wide net to reach individuals who otherwise would not have access to support. Saying ‘no’ to people in need of care is never going to be easy as the need is great- but thanks to the development of this app, the screening process is working its way towards being more patient-friendly and effective for the people Mercy Ships aims to serve.

Hospital Director Corné Blom recognizes the potential of the app going forward, branding it as ‘pioneering technology’: “We are really excited about how this app will transform our screening process. This is the future.”