According to our volunteers, the most recent available health data for our region is more than six years old, and some areas appear never to have been surveyed. Health can be enormously different across very small areas of a dynamic health landscape due to many local variations among communities and in the environment. Despite being less than 100 square miles in size, the Bahia Azul area in Panama’s Ngabe Indigenous reserve contains over 150 small, dispersed villages with very diverse health conditions. Moreover, health conditions within a community can change drastically over very short periods of time-one month, there may not be one case of Dengue, but a month of spring showers may bring a mini-epidemic.
Many indigenous people distrust strangers who come around asking personal questions, and traditional methods of surveying these areas are costly and logistically challenging. With ourunique access and acceptance in the communities we serve, we have an unprecedented opportunity to develop good information.
Through a database built by our volunteers, we collect and analyze clinical data during deployments, enabling us to monitor conditions in communities, target interventions based on current needs, and assess their effectiveness. Moreover, our volunteers have conducted targeted needs assessments in HIV, Family Planning, and other regional health issues.
In addition, we are developing a tablet-based EMR that can be used in remote field settings. It is something we look forward to implementing, but we will not do so until it can outperform the paper system we currently use. We define outperforming as the EMR collecting the most data relevant both to the acute and future care of every patient, as well as to regional public health. It also means the EMR promotes continuity of care by prompting and selecting appropriate treatments for local conditions. This maximizes the time a clinician can spend actually looking at and talking to the patient rather than entering data.
To facilitate the planning of the Ministry of Health and other organizations, we provide reports to them, as well as being able to measure the impact of our own programs. The database we maintain (over the past four years, it has reached 30,000 patients) provides researchers with a valuable baseline for targeted research into the population we serve, and we are very happy to facilitate public health research conducted by other groups that may benefit our patients as well. Please contact us if you have a research project you would like to discuss.
For any research project, we have the following requirements:
- The structure of the data gathering itself must directly benefit the patients
- The project should have a practical application for addressing the health needs of our region
- The project must adhere to international standards of ethical public health research standards