Do short-term medical missions have the right diagnostic tests to deliver quality care abroad?

November 30, 2018 | Christopher Dainton

Do medical missions have the right point of care diagnostic tests to deliver quality care abroad? That’s the focus of our latest peer-reviewed publication, just released in the Annals of Global Health.

Waves of Health diagnostic tests

Medical missions often operate pop-up clinics in remote, rural locations. Examples include indigenous communities in the highlands of Ecuador and Peru, farming communities in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and more. There, they’re faced with the challenge of setting up a makeshift clinic in a schoolhouse or a church.

NGOs bring supplies on buses and trucks, carefully organized and loaded into various bags, boxes, and tubs. In addition, they carry inexpensive, portable diagnostic tests meant to guide the diagnosis and treatment of patients in these low-resource settings.

Despite this, it’s not clear what types of tests are carried by the organizations serving these remote communities. If we want realistic guidelines for medical missions, first we need to know what resources are available to NGOs working in challenging settings.

Point of care diagnostic tests
What’s the bottom line for short-term medical missions?

Mobile medical missions commonly carried tests glucometers, urine dipsticks, and urine pregnancy tests. Conversely, not many carried hemoglobinometers, malaria diagnostic tests, tests for sexually transmitted infection, or portable ultrasound machines.

How did we find out which point of care diagnostic tests medical missions carry?

We surveyed 166 organizations operating mobile medical missions in Latin America and the Caribbean on the point of care tests they carried on their missions. Forty-eight organizations answered.

Medical mission diagnostic tests
What does this mean for doctors volunteering on medical missions?

Having the right tools is part of being adequately prepared to deliver care on a medical mission. We discuss this more here.

First, if you’re working on a medical mission and can’t obtain a glucose, a urine dip, and a pregnancy test, you may want to ask why. Second, while useful for field diagnosis, clinicians should understand that no test is perfect. Finally, doctors need to use their clinical judgment even when they’re faced with a normal, or abnormal test.

We need to view these findings in the context of local epidemiology. With this in mind, we hope stakeholders can use our results to guide resource planning, guidelines development for medical missions, and in establishing minimum recommendations for diagnostic tests that should be available.

Learn more about clinical guidelines for medical missions

Read the published article here. For more information on our guidelines initiative, check out our list of guidelines here. We’ve also previously published reviews of clinical protocols for respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal illness, diabetes and hypertension, and dermatologic disease.




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