International Issues: Teleneurology in humanitarian crises

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Abstract

Humanitarian emergencies defined by armed conflict, political strife, famine, or natural disaster can devastate populations rapidly. Neurologic disorders accompany these complex humanitarian emergencies but often go unheeded, exacerbated by a scarcity of neurologists. Teleneurology offers the promise of neurologic care remotely in the face of this inadequate local clinician supply. We describe our experiences as voluntary neurology teleconsultants with Médecins Sans Frontières in order to highlight both the promises and challenges of teleneurology in humanitarian contexts. We identified the major advantages of this service as (1) minimal resources and incurred costs while (2) changing a patient's clinical course favorably, and (3) creating a community for the field referrer and neurology specialist. Current challenges include (1) limited diagnostic resources and difficult diagnostic and therapeutic decision-making, (2) need for greater continuity and familiarity between the field site and neurologist, (3) gaps in the US neurology curriculum to provide expertise for all sites, (4) lack of follow-up and feedback from the field to advise future cases, and (5) low frequency of consultations. Growth opportunities include eventual expansion to the development of a community of neurologists who can provide context-specific care and maximize use of multimedia at low Internet bandwidth. Lessons from our experience may help optimize teleneurology's effect and reduce disparities in neurologic care, particularly in humanitarian crises.

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