Telemedicine Brings the Virtual Doctor Visit to Shell Nigeria

VSee telemed kit lung test w/ stethoscope

Trips like our recent Shell Nigeria deployment continue to remind me why new healthcare technology like VSee telehealth is so important.  For those who don’t have access to advanced medical care, telemedicine really does make a difference. Getting to meet real doctors and patients and seeing the impact of a virtual doctor visit over VSee brought home for me the value of telemedicine and makes me better appreciate VSee’s tele-consultation capabilities.

bonga deep water projectOur journey began with a helicopter ride to two Shell Nigeria floating oil production rigs or FPSOs  located in the Gulf of Guinea — the Bonga FPSO and the Sea Eagle FPSO. It then took us on land to Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, Nigeria, where we trained medical staff at the Shell Industrial Area (IA) Hospital.  It ended at the Obio Cottage Hospital, a local community hospital focused on maternal and child care.

Telemedicine for Shell Nigeria – Bonga and Sea Eagle

The Bonga Field is Nigeria’s first deep-water oil field and a Shell Nigeria success story. It contributes to about 10% of Nigeria’s oil production, has stimulated various other local deep water projects, and it’s core offshore staff is 90% Nigerian.  The Bonga FPSO which produces and stores oil from the Bonga Field currently lays about 120 kilometers off shore (about an hour away by helicopter).  The Sea Eagle FPSO lays about 20 kilometers off shore. Both FPSOs have limited health care capacity and with such a tedious journey to and from land, the impact of virtual doctor visits is clear.  medic for Bonga FPSO

A Virtual Doctor Visit Aboard the Sea Eagle

For example, the Sea Eagle’s clinic normally only has one medic on duty whose expertise is focused on general first aid and providing remedies for minor complaints such as muscle spasm, respiratory tract infections – coughing, sneezing, etc. Using the VSee telemedicine kit, all personnel are able to get a full medical examination for any illness — from evaluation to education. We did a very successful test drive of the telemedicine kit with a patient, Mr. Bio, who was able to communicate directly with a U.S. board-certified cardiologist about his concern over a recent high blood pressure reading.

First, Mr. Bio received a precise evaluation using the telemedicine kit’s portable medical devices. The consulting cardiologist, Dr. Robert Shiroff of Barton Associates (who asked us to call him Dr. Bob), was able to get real-time readings from the pulse oximeter, e-stethoscope, and EKG monitor from his remote location in Nevada.

VSee telemedicine on Sea Eagle FPSO

Next, he got real-time, face-to-face feedback from Dr. Bob who spoke with him about his previous blood pressure readings.  It turns out that Mr. Bio had his blood pressure taken right after coming aboard the Sea Eagle.  Dr. Bob was able to explain in detail how the change in environment can affect his blood pressure and recommended that he take the test again in a few days after his body had more time to adjust to the work environment.VSee virtual doctor visit

Finally, Dr. Bob ended the consultation with a discussion of the importance of prevention and ways to lower blood pressure through a healthier lifestyle. They discussed how daily exercise, lowering salt and sugar intake, and reducing weight can help lower his blood pressure and improve his overall heart health. While such knowledge and access to specialist care may be taken for granted by many of us, for Mr. Bio, the remote consultation provided him with completely new information that allows him to improve his health and overall well being. His hope now is that such telehealth consultations will be made available to more people.

Shell Industrial Area (IA) Hospital Telemed Training in Port Harcourt

The Shell IA Hospital for Shell employees includes 3 facilities for occupational health, maternal health, and a center for upper respiratory tract infection. I was very honored to get to train the medical trainers so as to create a self-sustainable system at the hospital after we left.  The telemedicine training session had 10 doctors and specialists where we gave the doctors hands-on practice operating the system. We had them actually send ultrasound, e-stethoscope and digital otoscope images / audio over the local network – VSee-ing from the training room to another department within the hospital so they could verify the quality of the real-time medical device readings and video conference.

Helping Babies at the Obio Cottage Public Community Hospital

obio cottage hospital

The Obio Cottage Hospital in Port Harcourt is one of 27 medical centers in South Nigeria supported by Shell. Formerly known as the Obio Clinic, the current facility is the result of the joint effort of the local government, private enterprises, and local community which transformed this almost non-functioning clinic into an immaculate, well-run facility.  The staff are motivated and trained, and the facility is regularly stocked with antibiotics and medicines.  It also offers a community-based insurance scheme which is making maternal care affordable to locals.

The main facility at Obio is dedicated to maternal and child health. We had 8 doctors and nurses attend the telemedicine training session. Following that, one of the local Nigerian doctors had a video consultation with Dr. Michael Parrino, also from Barton Associates, regarding the case of a one-month old baby.

The baby boy had been admitted to the hospital 6 days previously with a severe cough and high fever.  The doctors prescribed antibiotics which reduced the fever, however, his coughing remained. The doctors also thought he might have a common upper respiratory tract infection because of his rapid breathing and ordered a chest x-ray. During the virtual doctor visit with Dr. Parrino, he assured the doctors that they were on a right track with the current antibiotic treatment and that the baby’s belly looked normal.  However, Dr. Parrino also noticed the baby’s rapid breathing so we used the e-stethoscope and pulse oximeter to determine the baby’s heart rate.  We found that the baby also had a relatively high heart rate for his age so Dr. Parrino suggested getting an echocardiogramto rule out a congenital heart disease or defect.  Before ending the call Dr. Parrino thanked us with a big smile for “a fascinating morning.”

After the video consultation, I spent some more time with the mother to give her a summary of the discussion. Her eyes looked at me with such a mixture of fear and hope when she asked me why her baby was still coughing, and I desperately wished I could give her a thorough explanation like Dr. Bob did with Mr. Bio.  But I could only lamely explain to her what the numbers from the pulse oximeter meant. The experience gave me new inspiration and let me see first-hand the power of enabling local and remote doctors to work together through telemedicine — just as Dr. Parrino and the local doctors did in finding a diagnosis for the baby.

On a final note, as we toured the hospital — greeting and congratulating moms and their newborns in postnatal ward — I learned that Nigeria is one of the countries with the highest twin births in the world :)

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