VSee Telemedicine Plays Key Role in Global Humanitarian Relief

“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

(Video link:  VSee in Action- HELP Telemedicine in Haiti)

Fifteen years ago, a chance meeting with a 40-year veteran of the humanitarian relief field and a life-changing visit to Calcutta lead Randy Roberson to make a quantum leap from broadcasting to disaster recovery logistics.  Since then Roberson has been literally dropped into numerous disaster situations around the world — 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 emergency response workers effectively provide aid amidst the chaos and destruction of a disaster.  As he puts it bluntly, “the disaster technology was developed because I got tired of seeing people die on the field.”

He recently co-founded Disaster Relief Logistics, which delivers critical disaster recovery and early warning solutions through its award-winning disaster response technologies, tactical solutions and consulting services. These include the solar powered satellite communications and telemedicine backpack Roberson designed and uses in disaster rescue and recovery operations. Roberson has also designed equipment featured 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 served as Chief Science Officer of the international humanitarian organization AllHumanity Group.

(Video link: Randy Roberson Interview – VSee In Telemedicine)

After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Roberson became increasingly frustrated by his inability to provide more effective medical help while on the field.  He began to investigate ways to incorporate telemedicine into 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 exactly what was going on and to advise him on the best course of action to take in providing medical care.  Since he started using VSee, Roberson has seen dramatic improvement in his ability to help disaster victims.

Why Not Skype, Polycom or Cisco for Emergency Telemedicine?

The problem Roberson had before with traditional video conferencing systems such as Cisco was that they not only required specialized hardware that eat into shoestring budgets, but they usually need a dedicated IP address and much more bandwidth than satellite broadband (BGAN) could provide, making them too cumbersome for chaotic disaster environments.  VSee, however, was a free software service that (unlike Skype) is optimized for low-bandwidth usage.  It’s 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.

VSee Telemedicine Cases in Haiti and India

For Roberson and his coworkers VSee has completely changed 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.

Another time, 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 and 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.

More recently VSee saved the day, making it possible to treat burn victims at a rural clinic Southeast Asia, despite the poor network connectivity.

From Telemedicine to Disaster Logistics

Roberson also emphasizes VSee’s usefulness in ground control management.  VSee can keep 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 working off 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]

Going Beyond Emergency Response

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 there that would allow them to monitor victims and mentor indigenous surgeons via satellite telemedicine.  With the area’s poor infrastructure and erratic conditions, VSee would be the ideal tool for the project.

Article first posted March 2012

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