“I feel like Thomas Edison, we don’t know how something works, but we know 200 ways not to do something, and so far, VSee has proven to be the best tool on the field.” – Randy Roberson, Disaster Relief Specialist, CEO of R2 Communication Technologies, CSO of AllHumanity Group
(Video link: Randy Roberson Interview – VSee In Telemedicine)
Fifteen years ago, after a fortuitous meeting with a 40-year veteran of the humanitarian relief field and a lifechanging visit to Calcutta, Randy Roberson made the quantum leap from broadcasting to disaster logistics. Since then Roberson has been literally dropped into numerous disaster situations in places such as India, Haiti, Afghanistan, Japan, as well as within the U.S. His experiences have led him to the develop a robust set of technological tools that help relief workers effectively provide aid amidst the chaos and destruction of a disaster. He explains matter-of-factly, “the technology was developed because I grew weary of seeing people die on the field.”
His company for disaster relief technology, R2 Communications Technology, has partnered with Shelter+ which builds and deploys self-sustainable container clinics for medical work, disaster relief, research, etc. in locations with little or no infrastructure. He has also designed a solar powered satellite communications/telemedicine backpack which he uses during disaster rescue and recovery operations. Most recently, he became the the Chief Science Officer of the international humanitarian organization AllHumanity Group.
After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Roberson became increasingly frustrated by his inability to provide more effective medical help because of his lack of expertise. He began to investigate ways to incorporate telemedicine in his disaster relief efforts and discovered VSee. For someone like Roberson with no medical background, VSee allowed him to virtually have at his side a highly trained doctor who could see what he saw and hear what he heard no matter where he was or what the situation. The doctor could then direct him in immediately providing the appropriate medical care. Since having this capability, Roberson has seen dramatic improvement in his ability to help disaster victims.
The problem with using traditional video communication systems such as Cisco is that they not only require specialized hardware that eat into shoestring budgets, but they usually need a dedicated IP address and more bandwidth than satellite broadband (BGAN) can provide, making them cumbersome for chaotic disaster environments. VSee, however, was (and still is) a free software service that is optimized for low-bandwidth usage. It is not only easy to use, but can operate on a simple laptop even in the most unpromising conditions. “I have tried numerous other services and solutions, but VSee is the only one that meets all our needs,” Roberson said.
How VSee Has Made A Difference
(Video link: VSee in Action- HELP Telenedicine in Haiti)
VSee has completely changed Roberson and other disaster relief workers’ effectiveness on the field.
In one case, Roberson was in a rural clinic in India, and through VSee, he was able to have a doctor from 8,000 miles away diagnose multiple cases of tuberculosis by listening to the man’s breathing through a digital stethoscope.
More recently, during a relief trip to Haiti, an older person on their team who had been doing relief work for 30 years started having possible heart attack symptoms. Instead of immediately air-lifting him out, they were able to quickly set up their satellite broadband connection to do a VSee session with their point doctor in Arizona. With VSee the doctor could both read the EKG and see the patient at the same time, so he was able to quickly diagnose the 30-year relief veteran with a case of dehydration. This allowed them to keep a much needed person on the field and saved them the cost of an emergency air evacuation.
Roberson also emphasizes VSee’s usefulness in ground control management. VSee keeps command centers up-to-date on disaster conditions by streaming data in real time thus allowing them to respond based on actual conditions instead of conjectures. In both these ways, VSee has proven to be a significant solution in many desperate situations.
[Video link: Randy Roberson discusses VSee in Disaster Management 1:18]
What’s In The Future?
While Roberson spends much of his time developing technologies and strategies in preparation for emergency situations, he has seen immense potential for VSee in other areas as well.
One area he is working on is linking surrounding rural communities with limited medical resources to hospitals and disaster relief circles in metro areas like Phoenix. He has already helped set up a VSee link between Dr. Michels from his hometown medical center in the mountains to a well-respected neurosurgeon, Dr. Lieberman, in Phoenix.
For the past 2 years he has also been a consultant for the Grossman Burn Center which has been helping burn victims in Afghanistan and together they are working to establish a more permanent clinic that would allow them to monitor victims and mentor indigenous surgeons there via satellite telemedicine. With the area’s poor infrastructure and erratic conditions, VSee would be the ideal tool for the project.
- R2 Communication Technologies
- Shelter+ Container Clinics Brochure
- HELP website - Non-profit humanitarian relief organization started by Roberson
- Article on HELP’s work in Haiti
- VSee blog – Checking in on HELP