Student solution may unlock Thai health backlog

Looking to put their skills to use in developing countries, some Western students are using something as simple as a phone to help medical patients in rural Thailand.

With help from fellow students Nicholas Chepesiuk, Justin McDonald and Roland Luo, and the assistance of Western’s Biz Inc., HBA student Ali Jiwani hopes a medical software tool will assist medical workers increase efficiency at clinics and allow doctors and volunteers deal with more patients.

“When we looked back at our university careers we wished we had more opportunity to use the skills we learned and apply it to real-world problems,” Jiwani said. “We liked fundraising and attending charitable events, but we always felt our talents were being underutilized. We just thought it was time to harness their knowledge and create method of inspiring them to build and implement their own tangible solutions for the social sector.”

Part of Smart Solutions, a national Canadian student organization, Jiwani helped create Smart Labs, an app development shop for early-stage or resource-strapped social enterprises, charities and non-profits.

Among Smart Labs first projects was a pilot project with Warm Heart, a non-profit organization based in rural Thailand working with clinics in remote areas of the country to administer better health care to the population.

Many rural medical clinics in Thailand are overwhelmed with patients, with about a 6,000:1 patient/doctor ratio and almost all medical records are still paper based. Warm Heart knew what needed to be done, but lacked sufficient infrastructure to deal with all the patients effectively.

“Our goal is to improve overall efficiency in clinic operations, by focusing on improving the processes of regular patient encounters and data entry,” Jiwani said. “Our solution is to implement a low-cost web and Android-based solution utilizing open-source materials and battery-powered Bluetooth-enabled medical devices.”

Essentially, the Western student-created app will enable volunteers to quickly and accurately identify patients, record vitals, blood glucose, blood oxygen and ECG waveforms from patients, then upload that data to a medical-records system in the cloud or print the information in a standard format.

A basic version of the solution will be piloted at WarmHeart’s Maepeng Clinic.

“We have kept our solution open source, meaning anyone can tweak it and use it for his/her own purpose. WarmHeart has stated that if the solution works, it can be scaled to all the clinics it operates in Thailand, which would be amazing for us as students,” Jiwani said.

Beyond the possibilities of this specific product, Jiwani sees potential for Smart Labs as a whole.

“We hope to build more products for the developing world using our resources. This way we can solve many problems, in more than just health care,” he said.

The next project will be focused on reducing poverty in Bangladesh through energy-efficient resources.

Taking action to help a global community, Jiwani added, proves students are able to create change not only in the cities they live in, but around the world, through active volunteerism and their unique skill sets – be it engineering, medical science, computer science or business.

“This should inspire more people to step up and ultimately build better bridges between the developed and developing world,” he said.