Telehealth Supporting Patient Care to War Torn Syrian Hospitals


As the Syrian Civil War continues on, killing more than 100,000 citizens thus far and sending countless more to the hospital with serious injuries, hospitals in the region are turning to telehealth to provide much needed clinical support to overwhelmed local care providers.

The program is being managed by Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), an international effort working to bring attention and resources to the eroding healthcare system in Syria. SAMS estimates that 36 percent of the hospitals in Syria have been destroyed, and that 50 percent of the physicians have fled the country. For those working from rebel-held hospitals, the conflict has become a nightmare.

Rebel-held hospitals are frequently the target of attacks from the Syrian government, launching more than 150 attacks on medical facilities since 2011 when the conflict started. Physicians for Human Rights, a NYC-based organization, reports that 460 clinicians have been killed in these attacks thus far. The ongoing threat of attack has exacerbated the physician shortage and has prompted many field hospitals to move their operations underground. In September, a missile attack leveled the rebel-held Al-Bab field hospital, killing two doctors, four nurses, and five patients. With the constant threat of attack, the few remaining physicians willing to work in rebel-held area’s struggling to care for the high volumes of critically injured patients.

“We have a real shortage in all specialties so of course we don’t have [Intensive Care Unit] doctors. We only have ICU technicians and nurses.” – Tamer Hassan, MD, head of the SAMS field office in Gaziantep.

Now, through a SAMS telehealth program, ICUs in rebel-held hospitals are getting the support of the international community. Doctors from across the globe are remotely supporting local clinicians who are often providing care to critically injured patients without any physician guidance.

Doctors from the United States, Canada, England, and Saudi Arabia have established a 24-hour on-call team that uses telehealth to provide support to local ICU clinicians. The local clinicians have placed video cameras on each patient along with their ventilators and monitors. The team of ICU doctors monitor the patient’s progress in real time and oversee care delivery accordingly.

Because hospital’s have become a high-value target, there is a significant emphasis on discharging patients to outpatient settings as quickly as possible. The clinicians working in these outpatient locations are finding that the newly installed telehealth platform is helping maintain continuity of care across the care transitions because they are able to discuss the treatment plan with the remote physicians that oversaw the patient’s ICU care.

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