By Wendy Sarubbi | August 6, 2012 3:28 pm

A mobile system that manages patients’ medical records with iPads hums throughout a small town in the Dominican Republic this week, thanks to the ingenuity and can-do attitude of a few UCF College of Medicine students.

The system started as a research project for third-year medical student Bobby Palmer of Avon Park, Fla. When Bobby graduated from Wake Forest University in 2009, he landed a scholarship that allowed him to travel to other countries on medical missions before enrolling in medical school. One of his stops was Santiago, Chile where he took part in earthquake disaster relief.

Bobby observed firsthand the challenges that doctors faced keeping medical records in some of the world’s most remote regions – either through pen and paper or by memory.

So a part of his Focused Individualized Research Experience (FIRE) project, he created an electronic medical records system that could be run anywhere with little cost and virtually no maintenance. Bobby’s system runs on iPads, a laptop, router and a generator to charge the equipment.

Last week, a team of nine medical students, several UCF nursing students and faculty and volunteer physicians from Central Florida used the system in San Francisco de Macoris, a remote community about 70 miles from the capital city Santo Domingo. The UCF team set up a temporary clinic with the help of a local university and used Bobby’s system to keep track of patients seen, treated and those given prevention education as part of their visit. About 300 patients were expected to use the system during the five-day medical mission.

“Over time, the system will let us look at trends and help teams determine what medicines are needed and which ones are not based on objective data,” Bobby said. “It will improve health care delivery to that community and help us understand what we’re doing and if in fact we are making a difference in improving the patients’ health. That’s what being a doctor is all about, doing all you can to help people.”

The system has security protocols for patient data. Patient’s names are coded to ensure privacy and can be done inexpensively thanks to the OpenMRS (Medical Records System). The non-profit based in Virginia is a collaboration of volunteers who created a software platform that makes electronic medical record keeping available to everyone for free.

The software was created to help medical teams in Africa trying to get a handle on the HIV outbreak and has been used in countries battling malaria and tuberculosis. More than 45 countries and international nonprofits now use the system, including a few within the United States.

Dr. Judith Simms-Cendan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of international health programs at the medical school, called Bobby’s system remarkable. “What he’s done really will make a difference,” she said. “Some of these communities are so rural, they simply don’t keep records, and that’s very important for the delivery of quality health care.”

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