Billions of dollars of medical donations have been wasted due to preventable problems. RxDonate’s mission is to solve a consistent set of problems that plague the efforts of medical teams in developing countries. Our current objective is to create a self-sustaining, centralized online network capable of maximizing relief efforts by utilizing available technologies.
Currently, medical teams will go into an area more or less blind to the situation on the ground. We often hear “if I only knew” or “if we only had” something, “we could do much more while we are here”. This information exists, but due to the number of people involved and the complexity of the situation, it is not available in a way that anyone can realistically use.
To have an impact, many organizations and individuals donate equipment, supplies, and drugs to the developing world. Depending on the situation, up to 80% of these donations don’t get used and are therefore effectively worthless. Despite the greatest of efforts and cost in shipping, this is too often the norm.
RxDonate is working to address this problem by bringing the various players together in a way that maximizes communications, consolidates information, and tracks success in order to not only provide better healthcare now, but to also track, learn from the past, and improve over time. To both the traveling and local clinicians, we provide resources to help them give the best care possible. To the donors, we provide information on their donation, allowing them to see where it goes and to track stories over time. To all, it allows you to be part of a specific project. You can interact as much or little as you like.
RxDonate will dramatically increase the effectiveness of healthcare in the developing world. Our fundamental philosophy is to help those helping others. We do this by making it easier for doctors, donors, and non-profits to communicate and coordinate efforts between themselves and the developing world. The design of the system is based on many years of research including on the ground observations, interviews with clinicians, and discussions with corporations and non-profits in the healthcare space.
The RxDonate system is designed to be a toolbox of features that will help before, during, and after medical deployments to the developing world. For example, clinics in Haiti can request medical equipment, teams, and supplies. Traveling medical teams can coordinate with donors from around the world to take donations with them and show locals how to use them. Prior to these services, donations were often sent to a remote location based on a presumption of need or simply based on donation availability. The past result was often supplies expiring before they are used or equipment collecting rust and taking up space. It is our experience that up to 80% of donations are effectively worthless since they are never used. We have identified the five main reasons for this and we help solve this problem.
For instance, the system allows a clinician planning on traveling to, say, a remote area of Haiti to see the status of hospitals and clinics in the area. By seeing this information, he will realize that their heart monitor isn’t working and can bring his own. Medical professionals often carry two bags on a medical mission. One for their own supplies and one for donation. Until now, donations are generally based on a ‘guess’ of what is needed on the ground, outdated information or simply based on availability of donations. Now, the transfer of medical supplies can be based on actual need, resulting in better healthcare and reduced cost.
The above situation actually happened. I was part of a two-group medical team that deployed to Haiti. The first group had about 25 people as did the second. Half way through the first group’s trip I received a call from the anesthesiologist saying that the heart monitor he was going to use wasn’t working and they couldn’t do necessary surgeries. He wanted to know if I could fly one out that night. Due to flight schedules and where I was (Austin, TX), it would have taken a charter flight if I could even find such a monitor. I suggested they contact another hospital I had worked with who I thought had extra monitors at the time. I forwarded information about who to contact at that hospital and suggested the team line up transportation to receive the device. Luckily they were able to borrow one from even an even closer hospital. With our system, the medical team would know the device was out before they travel, allowing better planning. Second, depending on the cause, they may be able to bring whatever is necessary to fix the broken device. Third, they would be able to find similar devices nearby (via GPS coordinate), thus finding nearby groups they could borrow equipment from. Right now, when the “system” works it works because someone knows someone who knows of something. A perfect storm must ensue for success. We will help assure success by bringing the right people and information together in a useful way.
So, our system helps plan the deployment. It also helps show the need on the ground, giving medical clinics and hospitals around the world the ability to state ongoing needs. Once a need is matched with a donation and shipped, you would think that it would be received and used. However, this frequently is not the case due to preventable reasons.
First of all, local clinicians need to know they have the donation (believe it or not, many donations don’t get used simply because the person who received it and locked it up didn’t inform the doctor it was there). We become a simple inventory system for the hospital, allowing access by computer or cell phone.
Currently, when a medical device stops working, a request is often made to replace the device. RxDonate will empower the receiving hospital to do some basic diagnosis on the failed equipment and communicate needs to whoever is coming there next. Most developing areas around the world don’t have access to a Radio Shack for buying a replacement fuse, let alone a medical parts warehouse. We will help them diagnose the problem and request a part or supplies. We will communicate this to the next deploying team or shipment. This way, a 20 cent donation of a fuse brought down by a medical team can be as effective as a $25,000 EKG donation.
The “rocket science” of the RxDonate system will happen behind the scenes. The design allows the system to be ready for any request at any time. For instance, one feature will allow a doctor in a remote region to type “x-ray” on her smart phone and find where the closest x-rays are and how to get in touch with the people controlling them. The same will work for drugs and expertise. This will be useful both in normal times as well as in disaster situations.
There are many other features of the system. The synergy it creates between various teams around the world coupled with its ability to capture the current best practices of those in the field will save lives.
I sold my last IT company and went back to school to earn a PhD in Biomedical Engineering. While working on this I had opportunity to travel to several developing counties. I immediately saw problems in the donation ‘supply chain’ and had some ideas to fix them but didn’t really know how to implement them. In December of 2009, I graduated with the PhD and moved back to Austin. My plan was to take a few months to decide what next entrepreneurial venture to pursue. On January 12, 2010, I heard that an earthquake hit Haiti and I immediately focused all attention to this based on my experience and connections in the country. I had two friends around a mile from the epicenter and worked to mount a response. I figured if they had survived they would be doing all they could to help those around them, and we should help them however possible. All communications were down. I contacted everyone I could find (utilizing Google to a great extent) and that evening was able to tag GPS coordinates on google maps along with location of the hospital, information on it, landing sites for helicopter, small plane, and boat. The ‘first responder’ groups I was able to get in touch with had already committed to the capital city. Soon thereafter, the Canadian Forces contacted me based on the map and were looking for real time intel on the ground. I gave them all the information I had and what the likely actions were of people on the ground. Long story short, they deployed later to that area and had a presence for 6 months. We heard about this when we were finally able to get in touch with our friends.
This obviously got me thinking, and was the genesis of RxDonate. Since this time, we have been working on the design and infrastructure of the company and have two ongoing ‘alpha’ tests in Haiti. These tests are there to work out the kinks of the systems and have been very informative. We are now working on our beta test that will be a largely automated system. Our goal here is to ensure all systems work well in multiple cultures, languages, and communications infrastructures. We have bootstrapped everything to this point but need a little more to get through this next milestone. Once the beta test is complete, we should have the information we need and the formalized proof of concept necessary to get the needed funding to deploy worldwide.
We are asking for help here for the first part of our beta system.