Health News Digest

November 13, 2017

Serving The Medically Underserved

By Michael D. Shaw

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Medically Underserved Areas/Populations are those having too few primary care providers, high infant mortality, high poverty, or a high elderly population. The notion of “medically underserved” is itself a reflection of what are called social determinants of health.

Organized study of these determinants was started in 2003 by the World Health Organization, and they were identified as:

  • Addiction
  • Early life
  • Food
  • Social exclusion
  • Social support
  • Stress
  • The social gradient
  • Transportation
  • Unemployment

Within a few years, expanded—and more specific—lists were developed by a variety of countries, including such items as access to healthcare services; access to mass media and emerging technologies (e.g., cell phones, the Internet, and social media); and availability of resources to meet daily needs (e.g., safe housing and local food markets).

As you can appreciate, most of these social determinants are problems and disparities that have plagued mankind from the beginning of time. Countless charitable and government programs have been initiated for centuries to alleviate these issues—with varying results. Still, the most practical approach would be to increase access to healthcare services for all.

One method is telemedicine, defined by industry pioneer Daniel Kurywchak as “The ability to provide interactive healthcare utilizing modern technology and telecommunications.” Kurywchak uses the example of a sore throat symptom, in which a primary care provider can transmit video images to an ENT specialist, who will then be able to diagnose and set up a treatment plan remotely. He contrasts the inconvenience of a cross-city commute to see that specialist with an 18-hour boat ride up the Amazon River, as it might apply to certain populations.

Another strategy would be the use of paraprofessionals, as well as the increased role of nurse practitioners. It is noted that nurse anesthetists are the sole providers of anesthesia in approximately two thirds of all rural hospitals in the United States, enabling these health care facilities to offer obstetrical, surgical, and trauma stabilization services.

Then there’s the matter of empowering the average person with the ability to save a life, as in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Training courses are widely available in the US and elsewhere, but the trick is getting people trained in those underserved communities.

Which brings us to the Disque Foundation, and its mission of empowering others to save lives. The main idea is to provide advanced healthcare education to underserved populations of the U.S. and the world. The Foundation’s inspiring Save a Life Initiative offers the world’s first free life support training courses online. The goal is to empower a million people with the ability to save a life by 2020.

The idea for the Disque Foundation began with a charitable medical project. Founder and Executive Director Dr. Fritz Disque was serving in Haiti, along with other volunteer medical professionals from Rush University, after the 2010 earthquake. At that time, Dr. Disque was involved in an emergency C-section that required pediatric advanced life support (PALS). The Foundation seeks to widely disseminate such life-support knowledge. Dr. Disque sees this as part of what he calls “technophilanthropy.”

I’ll give the last word to the Disque Foundation’s Director of Outreach & Mission Fulfillment, Dr. Paula Patel

“Our Save a Life Initiative is centered around teaching and educating others, all over the world, with lifesaving skills like CPR so that everyone has the ability to save a life. By offering our services for free, we are able to reach those who may face financial and logistic obstacles, and empower them with this lifesaving knowledge.”