U.Va. Medical Center, University of Miami Team to Provide Care to Haitian Earthquake Victims

March 8, 2010 — Many survivors of January's earthquake in Haiti are in need of neurologists, plastic surgeons, epidemiologists and other medical specialists, but they may not be available on-site in field hospitals.

A new partnership between the University of Miami Health System and the University of Virginia Health System looks to bridge that gap.

The partnership will allow specialists from both universities to remotely treat patients at the University of Miami Hospital in Port-au-Prince through the Swinfen Charitable Trust, an organization that connects physicians and their patients in poor or remote parts of the world with specialists who offer medical advice on specific cases. The trust uses a secure server to e-mail the patient's clinical history and other information, such as x-rays and MRIs, to its partnering specialists, who then review the case and provide feedback.

U.Va. physicians have partnered with the Swinfen Trust since March 2008 and will now be utilizing the service to remotely "see" the patients at the University of Miami's field hospital and provide guidance and second opinions for the physicians treating the patient.

"So many patients in Haiti are in desperate need for specialty care, with few such specialists available and a limited infrastructure in which to provide care," said Dr. Karen Rheuban, medical director of U.Va.'s Office of Telemedicine and president of the American Telemedicine Association. "This partnership with the University of Miami and an expansion of our longstanding partnership with the Swinfen Trust will provide many patients with the expertise they need. Our physicians have found the Swinfen system easy to use, and we are committed to continuing this outreach collaboration."

Dr. Anne E. Burdick, associate dean for telehealth and clinical outreach at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine and longtime consultant to the Swinfen Trust, said that being able to utilize a low-bandwidth system is beneficial as Haiti recovers from the massive earthquake.

"Because so much of Haiti's communications infrastructure has been destroyed, finding alternative methods to transmit medical information has become crucial," Burdick said.

U.Va. has more than 70 School of Medicine faculty members who consult through the Swinfen Trust, founded and run by Lord and Lady Swinfen. Rheuban estimated that U.Va.'s physicians have helped in several hundred cases in countries around the world.

Dr. Robert Strieter, chair of U.Va.'s Department of Medicine, has consulted in cases of pulmonary disease through the trust.

"This has been an extremely enjoyable opportunity for me to be able to help," he said. "I believe the collaborative efforts to treat patients at the University of Miami's field hospital in Haiti will lead to outstanding patient care."