In late Summer 2014, University of Michigan medical students, Kashif Ahmed and Devika Bagchi, were supported by Global REACH to participate in a hypertension-focused pilot program utilizing weekly videoconferencing and a cloud-based electronic health record (EHR) system for at-risk elders, and a needs assessment for children - all of whom live at the Grace Care Center (GCC) in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Mr. Ahmed (M3) and Ms. Bagchi (M2) were among several medical students who have been working for more than a year to develop a telemedicine model to provide remote healthcare for GCC residents under the mentorship of Dr. Naresh Gunaratnam, a gastroenterologist from St. Joseph Hospital.
Grace Care Center was established in 2002 to provide a residential facility for orphaned children and destitute seniors displaced by civil war and the 2004 tsunami. Since its inception, Dr. Gunaratnam has served as the president of the GCC Board of Directors as well as its primary sponsor, VeAhavta, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit. The 2014 trip was the first opportunity for UM medical students to visit GCC.
An initial hypertension pilot program of the GCC elders in November 2013 showed significant improvements in their health outcomes and served as the basis for the Fall 2014 Needs Assessment. The on-site visit allowed the team to build upon the hypertension project and explore other applications of the telemedicine model for GCC children and elders. They identified several future areas for intervention including lifestyle, mental health, tele-dermatology, EHR, and nonmedical projects such as a focus on academic difficulties. In addition to the specific project goals, Mr. Ahmed and Ms. Bagchi were able to overlap with volunteers both within and outside of the medical community to participate in several volunteer activities.
The full report on the 2014 Needs Assessment Project which the students submitted about their experience, includes a potential project with a group of University of Michigan MBA students who will be traveling to Sri Lanka in Spring 2015 to research profit-generating opportunities for GCC. The report can be found here (PDF).
Below, Mr. Ahmed and Ms. Bagchi share their thoughts about the value this experience has brought to their medical education
“In addition to the motivational benefits this experience has provided me during my preclinical years, it has also helped me solidify the material we learn in the classroom. Every week, I’m able to use our telemedicine model as an opportunity to take medical histories, work through differential diagnoses, present to a supervising physician, and enter clinical data into an EHR. I have no doubt that my experience working with Grace residents has not only made me a more capable medical student, but also a more motivated one, with an eye towards the role I hope to play in global health work during my career."
“I feel so grateful to be part of a team of tremendously talented and driven individuals who are working to expand the frontiers of primary care using a novel telemedicine approach at Grace Care Center in Sri Lanka. My involvement in this project since the beginning of my M1 year has greatly contributed to my pre-clinical education, giving me the unique opportunity to work closely with patients and practice skills that will no doubt serve me during my clinical years and during my future career.”
Update October 2015: You may read more about the Ann Arbor community's involvement in Sri Lanka in this article posted in The Ann.