Saving lives in Papua New Guinea with help from custom apps created using FileMaker
- YWAM, a volunteer-based organization, provides medical assistance to Papa New Guineans in dire need of medical assistance while overcoming the challenge of paper-based patient forms and sticky notes for medical supply inventories and their expiration dates.
- Non profit organization, mission programs
- Developers from Gearbox Solutions created custom apps to expedite patient intake and organize patient medical, dental, and ophthalmic history.
- Patients can be easily triaged based on their conditions. Reporting to government agencies no longer requires manual data entry and reams of paper. Patients receive swifter, better care, with fewer errors or miscommunications.
In Papua New Guinea, a remote country off the coast of Australia, 43 percent of the population is under 15 years old. They belong to many different tribes, speak various languages, and are surrounded by diverse, pristine, lush islands, many of them uninhabited. Yet only one quarter of young Papua New Guineans live to celebrate their 40th birthdays, and five women each day die in childbirth.
How can this be, in today’s interconnected world? Bill Gates says that Papua New Guinea is hardest place to deliver healthcare in the world; villages are located along complex river systems, high mountain ranges, and tangled jungles that make it difficult to reach areas where medical, dental and ophthalmic healthcare are in dire need.
An outlandish yet meaningful mission
YWAM started operating a medical ship – a 100-plus person vessel – replete with trained healthcare providers.
The challenge of delivering aid in Papua New Guinea wasn’t lost on Youth With a Mission (YWAM), a volunteer organization founded in 1960 dedicated to ministering and serving those in need. To help Papua New Guineans, YWAM started operating a medical ship – a 100-plus person vessel – replete with trained healthcare providers.
The organization also deployed a fleet of small boats capable of navigating complex water routes to reach rural villages. Caregivers can help with immunizations and other issues in the villages, or they can treat more urgent cases on the medical ship once patients are transported to the big ship via the smaller boats.
The cause captured the passion of Marty Thomasson’s son, who had just graduated from high school but decided to take a year off and volunteer on a YWAM medical ship before starting college. Thomasson, a long-time FileMaker developer, heads up Gearbox Solutions, a Platinum member of the FileMaker Business Alliance. Coincidentally, Thomasson’s wife is a physician. So the family as a whole seemed like a perfect fit to help the worthy YWAM cause in Papua New Guinea. Although the idea might sound outlandish to some, the entire family, including all four of the Thomassons’ children, set out for the diverse, mysterious country to help.
Every team will save many hours each week. Even if that means that just one more patient is diagnosed and treated for tuberculosis, that makes a huge difference and is well worth the effort.
Marty Thomasson, CEO and Founder, Gearbox Solutions
Marty Thomasson on a mission to help those in need in Papa New Guinea.
Big ship, little to do?
Once aboard the ship, Thomasson’s son was busy undergoing training in accomplishing the mission and helping on the boats. His wife, a doctor, began traveling out to rural villages to provide medical aid or treating patients with more serious conditions coming on board the ship.
At first, Thomasson was on the ship for weeks, wondering how he could contribute to the cause. Then he started noticing things – inefficiencies, mountains of registration forms, and reports where his experience as a FileMaker developer could genuinely help.
There were sticky notes on computers tallying up medical supply inventories and tracking expiration dates. Paper-based patient intake forms were tacked onto clipboards, as well as existing complicated spreadsheets. There were also communication barriers, because almost every tribe in Papua New Guinea speaks a unique language.
"A switch went off in my head: I knew how I could help – by creating custom apps,” says Thomasson. “The FileMaker Platform was perfect for quickly creating custom apps such as intake forms with patient history that would be easy for new volunteers to adopt right away. The iPad was perfect because it would take up very little counter space on the cramped ship and could easily be sanitized for use in a medical environment."
Rapid apps, without a heavy IT infrastructure
Patient intake was previously handled through paper forms.
From the remote islands of Papua New Guinea, Thomasson quickly began creating custom apps. The first was an intake form that volunteers can use to capture every patient’s medical, dental, and ophthalmic history, including whether or not the patient has tuberculosis, a common ailment in the country.
Using the iPad, volunteers can take each patient’s picture and include it in the FileMaker intake record, making language barriers and patient recognition less of an issue as a patient moves through treatment. Throughout the ship, technicians also use the iPhone to capture pictures taken by microscopes of patient lab tests. The images are included in the patient’s record to provide a more complete picture for caregivers.
The iPad is used in the field, too, where every medical interaction is synchronized back to a central server on the ship. Immediately, everyone on the ship can know when a patient arrives if surgery will be necessary, if he or she has tuberculosis, and whether or not to have nurses and surgeons scrubbed and on alert.
Thomasson tackled the inventory issue, creating a barcode-driven custom app that automatically tracks amounts of medical supplies in stock and expiration dates. If a batch of saline or syringes has expired, the app can synchronize with the FileMaker Server, and send a message alerting staff in Australia to ferry out a fresh supply.
Another app Thomasson created automatically synchronizes medical records and treatments from the FileMaker Server back to the home offices in Australia and Hawaii to streamline government reporting requirements showing, for example, how many patients were treated in which villages and why. This process was cumbersome when YWAM relied on paper and spreadsheets.
More time is spent treating patients, rather than spending hours doing manual spreadsheet entry and compiling reports.
Small effort, big return for humanity
Since Marty Thomasson set off on his family voyage to Papua New Guinea, patients can be easily triaged based on their conditions. Reporting to government agencies no longer requires manual data entry and reams of paper. Patients receive swifter, better care, with fewer errors or miscommunications. Optometrists can record visual acuity tests and match patients with the right reading or prescription glasses.
But Thomasson isn’t done yet. He’s developing more custom apps remotely, from the United States for issues such as dental inventory and overall government reporting statistics. He is also refining existing custom apps to help YWAM complete its journey from paper and spreadsheet-based operations to fully digital efficiency. He also plans to return to Papua New Guinea to gauge the success of his efforts and assess new needs.
"YWAM may have been using paper and spreadsheets, but they were still getting the job done with admirable dedication and courage,” says Thomasson. “But now, with the custom apps in place, everyone can spend more time treating patients, rather than spending hours doing manual spreadsheet entry and compiling reports. Every team will save many hours each week. Even if that means that just one more patient is diagnosed and treated for tuberculosis, that makes a huge difference and is well worth the effort."