Healthcare is a fundamental human right. Accessing healthcare in rural, often lower-resourced communities is a challenge which Cambodia is working diligently to address.
Cambodia has shown impressive progress in healthcare outcomes over the last two decades, with average life expectancy rising from just over 59 years in 2001 to almost 69 years in 2016. That improvement is a result of a consistent commitment to healthcare by the government that has led to enhanced funding and improved access. The country’s Health Strategic Plan 2016-2020 sets out a further roadmap for the future, with the goal of providing more equitable healthcare coverage between rural and urban populations forming a key pillar of that plan.
In March of this year, GE Foundation announced its partnership with Cambodia’s Ministry of Health to support the Safe Surgery 2020 initiative, an important step in the Foundation’s US$25 million commitment to safe surgery around the world.
Key to delivering positive change is providing access to healthcare in challenging rural locations. We have to provide equipment suitable for the setting, and operators trained to use it. That’s why two members of GE Healthcare’s Clinical Applications team recently undertook training initiatives supporting four hospitals across rural Cambodia, in partnership with Assist International. GE Reports takes time to explore their story, and how the solutions they delivered fit local healthcare needs.
Michelle Tan, Clinical Applications Specialist – GE Healthcare
“Being able to take part in such an endeavour is a privilege that doesn’t come by every day. It feels extraordinarily fulfilling to be able to contribute and make sure that other people get quality healthcare that everyone deserves.”
Richmond G.O. Chang, MD, FPBA, FPSA – Anesthesiologist, Clinical Applications Specialist – GE Healthcare
“I have worked in rural hospitals before I joined GE Healthcare. As a clinician myself, I definitely value how the right equipment or medicine allows me to give the best care to my patients”.
“Now… I view myself as someone who helps improve safety and the quality of anaesthesia delivery, in Cambodia and in the rest of the region.”
Supporting underserved rural communities
Healthcare is a universal right, but it is not one that is universally enjoyed. The challenges of healthcare provision for sparsely populated rural regions lie in stark contrast to the concentrated needs of urban populations. That means rural healthcare provision often falls short of that enjoyed by those who live in more densely populated urban areas.
“Rural areas are typically underserved and do not get enough attention, whether from the government, private individuals, or private businesses. Access to healthcare facilities in cities may be difficult and expensive for people who live in rural areas, and rural hospitals may be underequipped or understaffed to meet the needs in the area. Providing certain medical equipment can help these rural hospitals address these needs. However, training hospital staff on how to use this equipment safely is paramount. Otherwise these pieces of equipment just become white elephants in these hospitals,” points out Dr. Chang.
The right training for the right technology
“The Clinical Applications team helps customers use our products safely and effectively. Achieving this may be done through classroom trainings, workshops, product demonstrations, answering questions through email or SMS,” says Richmond.
The ability to meet and engage with healthcare workers in a hospital setting is an important part of this work. On their recent trip, Richmond and Michelle were able to hold workshops at the Chey Chumneas Referral Hospital, an hour outside Phnom Penh, providing a focal point for practitioners from three other rural hospitals.
“We had around 20 participants in this two-day training. These participants are mostly doctors and nurses belonging to four different hospitals,” Richmond goes on to say.
“Anaesthesia machines are life support equipment; keeping these patients alive during surgery and general anaesthesia. A sound understanding of how to operate the anaesthesia machine is important to keep patients safe during surgery.”
Support that gets technical
Providing medical equipment for rural healthcare settings is about selecting solutions that meet local requirements, complemented by the right technical support. These hospitals may not have the resources to maintain complex equipment requiring specialized service. For this reason, comprehensive technical support is an essential element of an effective solution. That’s why Michelle plays such an important part of delivery with the GE Clinical Applications team.
“I conduct product demonstrations and in-service training sessions. I also do standbys in the operating theatre for our anaesthesia machine. Before joining the clinical applications team, I was a field engineer. With my engineering background, I assist end-users with not only applications-related issues but with troubleshooting of technical issues a well,” says Michelle, highlighting the importance of a solution that doesn’t end when the team walks out of the door.
Informed decision making
Making informed care decisions is a vital part of quality healthcare. But it’s not just about provision of machinery, it’s about education. It’s essential that healthcare professionals are also equipped to understand and interpret data in order to make the right decisions for patients, something Richmond is keen to highlight.
“Patient monitoring data determines whether certain treatments are instituted. Changes in the patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, electro-cardiograph (ECG), oxygen saturation with SpO2, and capnograph measurement for CO2 may require interventions such as administration of drugs, some of which may have undesirable effects on patients with normal vital signs. The accuracy and quality of this patient monitoring data, as well as the correct interpretation of this data, helps doctors and nurses decide on the right interventions.”
Supporting better healthcare with safe surgery
With the support of the GE Foundation, we’re glad to play our part in expanding Safe Surgery 2020 into Southeast Asia, enabling improved access to healthcare for patients in Cambodia.
With surgical training, access to critical medical equipment, and infrastructure development, we can put under-resourced regions on the path to providing access to safe surgery for all. Since its launch in 2016, Safe Surgery 2020 has trained almost 2,000 surgical workers in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Cambodia. From surgeons and anesthesia providers to nurses and biomedical equipment technicians, we have developed a new generation of surgical leaders who will pioneer new localized solutions and improve patient care.