CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- For patients who have drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, it's critical to monitor the disease as closely as possible. That means monthly testing throughout a two-year course of powerful antibiotics, with injections six days a week for the first six months.
Keeping track of all those test results can be very time-consuming, especially in developing countries where health workers rely on paper copies. That's why MIT graduate student Joaquin Blaya decided to try out a new tracking method: personal digital assistants.
In a project launched in Lima, Peru, the researchers found that equipping health care workers with PDAs to record data dropped the average time for patients' test results to reach their doctors from 23 days to eight days.
"You can monitor patients in a more timely way. It also prevents results from getting lost," says Blaya, a PhD student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST).
Their work was reported in the online edition of the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Blaya started the project after taking a year off during his graduate studies to return to Chile, where he was born.
"I went back to Chile and realized the key was to focus on the population I wanted to help," he says. "Instead of saying, 'I'm a mechanical engineer, what kind of device can I build,' I should be saying 'Who are the people working in the settings I want to work in?'"
When Blaya returned to MIT, he took lecturer Amy Smith's D-Lab course and got connected with Partners in Health, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote health care in resource-poor areas.
Working with faculty members from HST and the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Blaya launched the PDA project in Lima. He also worked closely with the Peruvian sister organization of Partners in Health, Socios en Salud. "The way to solve healthcare problems is by involving the community,
|Contact: Jennifer Hirsch|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology