On request from National Alliance for Local Economic Development, the Missouri Telehealth Network at MU agreed to help develop a telehealth pilot program in Serbia.
The project, dubbed “Introducing Telemedicine in Eastern Serbia,” was brought to the attention of MTN staff by NALED in early May of this year.
“(NALED) works with USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and Merck Pharmaceuticals,” said Mirna Becevic, project development specialist at MTN. “When they started the project and (USAID) gave them information on several telehealth programs, they found that the most comprehensive network was Missouri Telehealth Network.”
In a still economically developing nation like Serbia, getting access to healthcare in rural areas is difficult. Telehealth helps to break down the barriers of distance by allowing physicians in larger facilities to confer and even treat patients in smaller, rural areas via videoconference.
“(The) project goal is to develop partnership between specialists from big clinic centers (Nis and Zajecar) with primary care clinicians from distant primary health care center (Boljevac) by means of specific, up-to-date, proficient informatic technologies,” the NALED website states. “Their cooperation is aimed at faster and more efficient diagnosing of patients in rural areas.”
NALED representatives traveled from their home office in Belgrade, Serbia, to MTN at MU on May 14. During their three-day visit, the representatives were trained by MTN staff and traveled to rural telehealth sites for demonstrations.
“We’re in an advisory role,” MTN Director Rachel Mutrux said. “When they came here we did a lot of training. And going forward we’re working in an advisory capacity.”
Besides training, NALED representatives and MTN staff discussed project models and contacts during the May visit.
“It’s a hub and spoke model,” Mutrux said. “And in this case there are two hubs and one spoke. Two urban hubs will provide specialties to one rural clinic. We recommend several equipment types. One of the vendors Polycom has a presence in Eastern Europe and is working with (NALED) directly. We were able to get them that contact while they were here.”
With training done and connections made, NALED is hard at work on the project back in Serbia.
“They are in the process of doing press conferences and press releases,” Becevic said. “Basically, they are in the selling stages. They are looking for some videos to show to their possible donors to show what telehealth is so they can get a basic understanding.”
MTN and NALED continue to plan and work together to get the project running. Telehealth services are projected to be up in Serbia by late fall. Murtrux said the undertaking was difficult even with expert help.
“It’s even more difficult due to barriers in Serbia,” Murtrux said. “(NALED) is an economic development non-governmental organization, and this is their first time to work on a health-related project."
Murtrux said Telehealth is about building relationships.
"Like we say, it’s not about technology but about people," he said. "They are going to have to go into each of these three different organizations and build relationships. I think that they can do this. We really helped them get an organized project together.”