Doctors from Brighton have teamed up with a former colleague to set up a virtual fracture clinic in The Gambia.
The medics were from University Hospitals Sussex, the NHS trust that runs the Royal Sussex County Hospital, in Brighton, and digital health company Definition Health, a member of the Sussex Innovation Centre, in Falmer.
Definition Health donated the digital equipment and Rosie Scott, one of the firm’s founders and a local NHS radiologist, helped to train Gambian medics in how to use it.
Through the charity Gam Med (Gambia Medical UK Partnership), they joined up with trauma and orthopaedic surgeon Kebba Marenah who completed his orthopaedic registrar training at the Brighton trust.
They hope that the virtual fracture clinic will save about half of The Gambia’s patients with broken bones from having to travel long distances – up to 100 miles – for treatment.
Many patients with injuries are reported to use traditional medicine and healers – and fractures are often bound with sticks and go on to mend poorly, resulting in permanent deformity.
One of those involved said: “The resulting deformities would pose a significant orthopaedic challenge to reconstruct the limb in the western world, let alone in The Gambia.”
Adding to this challenge, many patients travel long distances to a hospital in the Gambian capital, Banjul, or one of five satellite hospitals, because healthcare provision outside the capital is often limited.
It means that their treatment is often delayed in clinics that are overwhelmed and contributes to disappointing outcomes for patients.
Now, Gambian medics can assess patients remotely using a digital “pre-op health assessment app” called LifeBox ePOA, created by Definition Health.
The use of Definition LifeBox will enable remote care, monitoring and planning for patients between Dr Marenah in Banjul and the satellite hospitals.
They can also use the app to seek help with diagnosis and treatment from colleagues based in Britain.
Definition Health said: “It is the first national virtual fracture clinic in the world to run off a single digital platform and already data is showing that it will prevent 50 per cent of patients having to travel long distances for treatment.”
Dr Scott, one of the volunteers who spent a week in The Gambia earlier this month, said: “It was my complete privilege to work with the medical team in The Gambia and to offer them support with our Definition Health digital platform which allows them now to record conditions and treatment as well as monitor patients from a distance.
“For some patients, this saves them a journey of over 100 miles. I hope we can continue to support their everyday appointments with their patients, wherever they may live, and then with safe and efficient onward referral to the specialist where necessary.
“I feel happy that our technology is creating the greatest benefit where it is most needed.”
She took part in the week-long trip with Gam Med founder James Gibbs, a local orthopaedic surgeon, who had previously joined Dr Marenah in The Gambia on an outreach programme.
After the outreach programme, under the auspices of the West African College of Surgeons, Mr Gibbs and another local orthopaedic consultant Lisa Leonard were involved in setting up the Gam Med charity.
Each year, a group of NHS surgeons, anaesthetists, radiologists and physiotherapists spend a week working and operating on a wide range of conditions in The Gambia.
And British healthcare professionals continue to give long-term help and support to Dr Marenah, who was employed as his country’s first Gambian orthopaedic consultant, in in his ambition to raise the standards of hospital treatment there.
The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa, with a population of 2.1 million people.
For more information about Gam Med (UK charity number 191320) or to offer support, email James Gibbs at firstname.lastname@example.org.