Operation Village Health

This article was republished to pay homage to the original work of Connected-health.org.

Executions and forced labor camps of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s left millions of Cambodians dead or traumatized, families torn apart, and a vibrant culture nearly destroyed.  By 1979, less than 75 physicians remained alive, and were tasked with caring for a country burdened by infectious diseases, malnutrition, psychological trauma, and poverty.  It’s not surprising that today, Cambodia ranks among the lowest of countries on the human development index and among the highest in poverty.  Disparities in healthcare access are great – particularly in rural areas where 40 % live below the poverty threshold and most have never seen a doctor.

An Award-winning Extension of Partners HealthCare

Since 2001, Operation Village Health has enabled Harvard-affiliated physicians in the Partners HealthCare system to support Cambodian health workers caring for patients at a health center in the village of Rovieng. In 2003, the program expanded to include a referral hospital in the town of Banlung – the provincial capital of the Ratanakiri province. At each of these sites, point-of-care clinical data (medical history, physical exam, labs, and digital images) are gathered by Cambodian health workers caring for patients locally. Data from select cases are emailed to volunteer physicians in Boston and in Phnom Penh for review, and within hours, recommendations are returned allowing isolated clinicians to not only learn from some of the best physicians in the world, but to deliver improved care to these underserved regions of Cambodia.  Additional resources in the village of Rovieng include a basic point-of-care laboratory (Lab-In-A-Box) and simple clinical guidelines for the most commonly encountered medical problems. These tools, backed with telemedicine support, allow isolated Cambodian clinicians to manage their patients locally and with greater confidence.  Since inception, approximately 800 patient encounters have been completed through Operation Village Health. 

Reviews of this program have demonstrated high levels of patient satisfaction, and a decreasing need for transfer of patients to distant facilities.  As a result of this positive impact, Operation Village Health was chosen from a multi-national field of nearly 100 projects as the 2006 winner of the health category in the Stockholm Challenge – an international forum recognizing technology innovation as a way to improve the lives of those in the developing world. 

Future Directions

We are currently seeking support for general program operations as well as the development of a new tool for documentation using digital pen technology to increase efficiency, standardize clinical records, and minimize the need for time-consuming keyboard transcription. In addition, we aim to integrate the clinical data from these patient encounters into a web-based electronic medical record so that clinicians in Boston can more effective collaborate with clinicians in remote Cambodia, and enable improved tracking of the health status of these communities.

Overall, Operation Village Health seeks to establish an innovative communications technology platform that increases local capacity and emphasizes effective, self-sufficient, and affordable local care for communities in the developing world.