Mass General radiologists are bringing the power of high-tech medical imaging to patients living in the world’s poorest regions as part of the MGH Imaging Global Health Program. In today’s age of telemedicine, these specialists are volunteering their skills to help diagnose people in places as far away as Uganda, Rwanda and Haiti.
“As a radiologist, I wasn’t sure how I could get involved with global healthcare missions,” says Garry Choy, MD, MBAS, co-founder of the MGH Imaging Global Health Program. “I found that through teleradiology (the electronic transmission of medical imaging) I could be there, virtually helping local physicians and our MGH colleagues when they are abroad. The need for that help is acute.
The World Health Organization reports that two-thirds of the world’s population lacks access to diagnostic medical imaging care. The MGH Imaging Global Health Program is dedicated to increasing the availability of safe, quality medical imaging such as X-rays, CAT scans and sonograms, to vulnerable populations through remote consults, technology transfers, and education and training. In doing so, the program is contributing to Mass General’s long history of medical outreach to those in need, both locally and overseas.
Saving Lives Remotely with Medical Imaging
Dr. Choy and 10 of his MGH colleagues read images sent via email and, more and more often, by cell phone. Their work includes using a video telemedicine platform that streams video, audio and images for real-time consultations.
“What’s hard to come by is the necessary training to do radiology properly.”
In a dramatic example of how this remote network can save lives, Dr. Choy recounts reading an X-ray of a patient with abdominal pain taken just 30 minutes earlier at Butaro Hospital in Rwanda.
“The physicians sent me an X-ray of the abdomen that looked like a chest X-ray,” Dr. Choy says. “It confused them because they didn’t know what they were looking at. I knew right away it was a ruptured intestine that was causing the diaphragm to move up so high that the image was distorted and looked like a chest X-ray instead of an abdominal X-ray.”
Dr. Choy immediately emailed his diagnosis and advised the doctors to rush the patient to the main hospital in Kigali, the country’s capital, for surgery. Surgeons there removed a tumor that had caused the perforation and successfully repaired the intestine.
Providing On-the-ground Support
The MGH radiology team in Boston views an average of three to five images a week, all transmitted by their partners around the globe. Among them are cancerous tumors, infectious disease cases and traumatic injuries.
The program also facilitates the donation or discounted purchase of equipment to healthcare facilities that lack imaging equipment or are using outdated technology.
The program also facilitates the donation or discounted purchase of medical imaging equipment to healthcare facilities that lack imaging equipment or are using outdated technology.
The Mirebalais Hospital in Haiti today has a portable computed tomography (CT) scanner, thanks to the efforts of the program and its collaborator, Partners in Health.
“A CT scanner is normally bulky, but this is super portable” Dr. Choy says. “You can put it on a truck. You can plug it into a wall and charge it, and it will run on batteries.”
For the Mbarara Hospital in Uganda, the MGH program obtained the gift of a cloud-based image archiving and communication system that streamlines the practice of telemedicine. The hospital, which serves as the main referral center for a population of 35 million, also recently purchased a sophisticated CT scanner. However, its purchase, as well as the program’s donations, raises another issue the program is addressing: insufficient education and training.
Using Medical Imaging Requires Training
“There’s a training gap,” says Dr. Choy, who traveled to Uganda last year to meet and establish mentorship, training and resources to help the hospital’s sole radiologist and trainee. “They know how to use the technology in basic terms, but not how to optimize it. What’s hard to come by is the necessary training to do radiology properly.”
To close that training gap in Rwanda, a country with just six radiologists for 11 million people, an MGH radiologist is spending two years there establishing a radiology residency training program. Dr. Choy says the greatest area of need is for donations to help fund interns who will train to be future radiologists.
“We can do telemedicine, but that’s a short-term fix,” Dr. Choy says. “We want to help radiologists abroad increase their expertise, develop their leadership and build their own, sustainable infrastructure. That’s why we’re hoping to raise funds for a training program in Uganda and other places in the future.” “In the big picture, we’re making a difference,” Dr. Choy continues. “We’re educating physicians on the ground, and we’re creating a foundation for future collaboration so that we can learn from each other and, ultimately, save lives here and there.”
Support MGH Global Initiatives
Today, Mass General has 60 global health programs in 40 countries, including the MGH Imaging Global Health Program. These programs rely on your support. To learn more about how you can help, please contact us.