When Dr. Chris Johnson heard Faith In Practice was piloting a telemedicine program, he was eager to volunteer. “I do a lot of telemedicine at home already, and I was glad to get to be with the folks in Guatemala,” he said. “The most uplifting part was working with Dra. Patty, Felipe, and Tagni—they were very organized and really made sure the patients were well taken care of.”
What began as a way of taking care of our patients during the pandemic has evolved into an entire new program. Initially, it started in June with remote telemedicine “housecalls” as Guatemala began to emerge from complete lockdown has grown into a weekly onsite program with volunteers from seven of our Village Medical Clinic Teams.
Initially, the clinics were 100% remote, featuring a Guatemalan physician and a U.S. physician, organized and facilitated by our Village Medical Clinic Director, Felipe Gutierrez, and team. Following these consults, we delivered medicines and provided follow-up care.
Since then, we have continued to expand and improve these processes. We now conduct weekly visits, and as Guatemala opened, we expanded our visits with staff onsite with the patients. Each clinic has full PPE and plexiglass barriers and shields. Patient numbers are limited, of course, due to Ministry of Health regulations and the need to limit gatherings of patients for safety reasons. But we are expanding as quickly and as safely as possible.
Partnering with Xela Aid
More recently, we began an onsite program with Xela Aid, working with their staff to outfit a ‘safe clinic’ and the use of a much greater screen than was previously possible. The initial two-day clinic held in September was staffed by Dr. Phil Johnson (Johnson Team), Dr. Bob Wells (Wells Team), Dr. Vicki Martinez (Chenault Team), and Dr. Heather Diaz (Robinson Team). We continue to expand practitioner participation, with members from the Tysse-AGO, Thompson, and Delk Teams. We have clinic dates at Xela Aid through January.
Although some patients were initially shy when they began their consult with a doctor 3,000 miles away on a video screen, “they warmed up right away, probably because Felipe and Tagni were so professional and so kind with the patients,” said Joe Austin (Team Tysse-AGO).
Phil Johnson agreed that staff participation was critical. “Doing anything with [Dra.] Patty [Baiza] is a joy because she gives me thoughts from a Guatemalan perspective that I might not have considered, and we come up a plan for our patients.”
Patients have presented with ailments similar to what providers see in the villages, though some of the physicians have seen patients with suspected COVID infections, and counseled patients with concerns related to the virus.
“It reminds you that everyone is facing the same problems the world over, and even though we were not physically there to experience it, we’re as close as we can be,” said Phil. “We were able to share, they feel like they have been listened to, and we feel like we’ve been able to help.”
We are not establishing this program as a ‘stop-gap’ but rather an avenue through which we can expand and improve care, increase presence in more remote areas, and develop more local partnerships.
“Just like many health systems are looking at telemedicine as an ongoing model, I think this offers a good pillar of care when we can’t be there,” said Bob Wells. “It offers hope.”
Orthopedic Telemedicine Visits
This fall, we began orthopedic post-operative visits via telemedicine with Dr. Mark Woolf seeing knee patients and Dr. Brian Parsley caring for hips. We will continue to expand this program, which should assist us in reducing the need for pre-surgical triage trips and enhance overall continuity of care throughout this entire program. (Prosthetic provision is continuing in-country through our contracted providers, and Varinia, our 25-year-old amputee, recently received her new leg—read her story here.) These orthopedic consults are in addition to our ongoing and ever-expanding mobility clinics around the country.
Just the Beginning
Each month we are expanding these clinics and are adding additional U.S. practitioners, specialties, and locations. We are also seeking additional clinic partners in ever-increasingly remote areas to work with us. Currently, we have clinics scheduled through January.
What is key and very exciting about this newly launched program is that it is not a ‘stop-gap.’ Rather, it is an exciting new avenue by which we can increase our continuum of care into the future. It is an avenue by which we can deepen current and develop new relationships to leverage impact in general medical care, surgical pre-screening and follow-up, and quality surgical referral assessments. And, it is a way through which we might increase our presence in more remote areas to expand and complement the dedicated work of our Guatemalan volunteers.
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