Vecna Designs Mobile Health Systems for Rural Care

8/30/12Follow @xconomy

How do you design an electronic health records interface for people who are computer illiterate? And for use in locations where electricity is scarce?

Vecna Technologies, the Cambridge, MA-based healthcare IT and robotics company, is taking a crack at this problem with the Global Health Initiative, which it runs with the non-profit Vecna Cares Foundation. The business unit has developed a “CliniPAK,” which is essentially a mobile health record system with servers and solar chargers in tow. (It attracted the attention of many a geek at Cambridge’s Voltage coffee shop, where I met with the CliniPAK crew).

“What we really try to do with CliniPAK was to be thinking long-term and thinking sustainable,” says Emily Wang, CliniPAK’s project manager. “We built a technology infrastructure from the ground up, that’s not disease-specific and not one app. We look at a patient’s health holistically.”

The CliniPAK system has an AC port for charging and electricity, as well as a docking station and USB port for connecting to a mobile tablet that offers a simple, online medical record system. The tablet interface helps “strip appointments down to a really simple workflow,” says Wang.

Doctors can look up existing patient records in the system by entering demographic information. The touch-screen interface shows questions that would guide a typical primary care appointment, asking patients things like why they came to the doctor that day, what types of symptoms they’re experiencing, and what other conditions they’re experiencing alongside those. The questions ultimately guide doctors to screens with dropdown menus for diagnoses and treatment options for each diagnosis. It can be customized for specific medical missions trips, tailored to the diagnoses one would expect to see in a certain country, Wang says. The CliniPAK tracks patient information and history across multiple appointments and demographics, and streamlines the previous manual paper-based process for doctors reporting population health data to the government, Wang says.

“The work was normally done on very big paper registers, and was a cumbersome process,” she says. “On top of that, the biggest time sink was at the end of month when [doctors] needed to generate reports.”

Vecna Cares first brought the technology to rural clinics in Kenya about three years ago, and expanded into healthcare settings in Zanzibar last year. It has donated the actual equipment to governments in the countries it serves, but charges for the support and services to keep it running. It is also expanding to the Worcester Free Clinics in Massachusetts.

Wang says its application differs from traditional U.S.-based electronic medical records in that the focus is on improving diagnoses and care, as opposed to streamlining billing.

“The issue is not how you’re going to bill a patient, its how you’re going to track the care of patients,” Wang says. “Electronic medical records have not had easy adoption. There’s been a lot of resistance to it. We want our technology to be really advanced, but so simple to use that it’s unobtrusive.”

Technologists at Vecna are working on improving the technology, with a hackathon being held today at the company’s headquarters.

“We’re moving into bringing that technology back here and are realizing there’s a real application to it,” Wang says. “There are a lot of opportunities in the pipeline, and some other African countries we are thinking about spreading to.”

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  • Jill

    Pretty amazing that one little package of technology can change care delivery so dramatically!

  • Kerrie

    Such a cool project and company!