“Medical imaging is fundamental to almost everything healthcare does,” says RAD-AID president and CEO, Dr. Dan Mollura.
It may seem like an obvious statement, but for billions worldwide without access to imaging, it is a reality that carries grave consequences.
“I mean, you can’t take care of pregnant patients, you can’t take care of cancer patients, you can’t take care of trauma victims. It’s not just that you don’t have radiology, it’s all the implications of it,” he explains. “When half the world doesn’t have access to imaging, it means that their entire healthcare system falls apart. It’s a ripple effect.”
Frustrated by this troubling status quo, Mollura decided to create the change that was so desperately needed. While working as a radiology fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he founded RAD-AID
, a non-profit with the ambitious mission of improving and increasing radiology access for poor and medically underserved regions of the world. What began as a few dozen volunteers in 2008, has since grown to 5,000 people helping to save and improve millions of lives across the globe.
About 50 percent of the volunteers are radiologists, 35 percent technologists, with the remainder coming from fields such as nursing, public health and engineering. The number of people and the roles they play depends upon the project – RAD-AID is currently operating in over 25 sites across 18 countries – but there is no shortage of willing participants. For every slot that opens, Mollura says the organization receives between 50-100 applications.
A Wholistic Approach
Of course, solutions to systemic health problems are rarely if ever simple. Good intentions don’t heal the sick, nor do shipments of MRIs to developing countries.
“Unless you have skilled people to use the equipment, any donation of equipment becomes a waste,” says Mollura. “If that equipment is not fitted into an appropriate context then it’s also wasted.”
And then there’s the need for a referral system and all of the ancillary services that are integral to the continuum of care. For example, when breast cancer is suspected, a mammogram simply isn’t enough. Who will do the biopsy or refer the patient to an oncologist? Or perhaps an X-ray is required for a child with a lung infection. It may be possible to secure the image, but it’s of little use if one cannot source antibiotics or follow up with basic labs.
“Bridging that digital divide is the next chapter of addressing global health care disparity because IT is now an integral part of delivering medical care. Radiology is the bedrock of advanced health IT, which makes imaging a natural leading edge for advancing global health initiatives,” says Mollura.
It is within the context of this new reality that the vision of RAD-AID comes into focus.
“RAD-AID is about the wholistic picture of radiology. Not just the equipment but also the people and all of the other resources that go into making it effective,” he says.
From Radiology-Readiness to PACS-Readiness
From Kenya to Laos to Guyana, each country faces its own unique medical imaging challenges.
With this in mind, RAD-AID begins every project with a Radiology-Readiness Assessment where data is collected and analyzed in order to develop a strategy that meets the facility or community’s specific needs. Based on this data, the project is meticulously planned and implemented, in-country partners are trained, and the results are analyzed to identify obstacles and opportunities that can be used to refine and improve the program moving forward.
It is a scalable, adaptable, circular process that has proven highly successful, and in 2015, with the help of Merge Healthcare, RAD-AID was able to take their program to the next level.
The RAD-AID Merge International Imaging Informatics Initiative (RMI4)
combines the best of Merge’s leadership in radiology IT with RAD-AID’s global health outreach network to “reinforce a clear and targeted approach to greatly increase the availability of PACS and health information systems in poor countries,” says Mollura.
Through this strategic partnership, Merge has not only provided software, technical resources, training and expertise, but has helped expand Radiology-Readiness to include PACS-Readiness, a data analytics tool aimed specifically at planning international deployments of PACS in parts of the world that have little or no prior experience with imaging platforms.
Indeed, in just a few short months, Merge PACS have already been implemented in Nicaragua, Haiti, Nepal, Laos, and Ghana. Ethiopia and Tanzania are next on the list.
Changing Lives, Together
While the partnership is still new, (RMI4 was just launched in September), both parties look forward to a long and productive collaboration – one that will no doubt be enhanced by Merge’s new role within IBM and ongoing developments in cognitive computing.
“RAD-AID’s mission is very much in tune with that of IBM Watson Health,” says Nancy Koenig, General Manager of Merge Healthcare. “Our strengths and capabilities are complementary and we’re all striving toward the same goal: to save and improve lives around the world.”
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Dan and RAD-AID are doing. That an organization run entirely by volunteers can have such an important, global impact is remarkable,” says Koenig.
“We at Merge are proud to be their partner.”
Dan Mollura will be giving the closing keynote address at Merge Live 2016 on Friday, September 9, 2016. For more information and to register, please click here.