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Webwise Nurses Harness New Media for Global Health


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Posted: 8/10/2009

The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing (JHUSON) is harnessing the power of wireless technologies and online communities to help nurses throughout the world “connect for health.” Under the direction of Associate Professor Patricia A. Abbott, PhD, RN, FAAN, the School’s Global Alliance for Nursing and Midwifery Community of Practice (GANM) has become a teacher for the 21st century, speeding new health information and know-how to nurses around the globe from the most urbanized, high-tech cities to the most remote villages, using low bandwidth telecommunication technologies.

Kitty Poon, RN, MSN, a graduate of the JHUSON worked with Abbott’s GANM team  and created  an interesting mechanism for using new media improve lifesaving skills amongst geographically distributed areas.  Poon, Abbott, Hopkins colleague Kathleen Woodruff, MS, CRNP, and others developed a high quality and freely downloadable educational module, in Spanish and English languages for use amongst globally dispersed nurses and midwives.  The module focuses upon cervical cancer detection using visual inspection with ascetic acid (VIA),  a low-cost, low-tech cervical cancer screen designed for use in low resource settings.  Cervical cancer kills about 230,000 women annually and nearly 80% of these cases occur in poverty-stricken countries. Members of the GANM community are able to log on, download the module, and learn to conduct visual cervical cancer inspections using acetic acid (VIA).

What began as a scholarly project for Poon’s graduate studies now has become an important and accessible contribution to women’s health, and one that recognizes the value of health promotion and early detection of disease.  In addition, it capitalizes on the growth of information and communication technologies that are seeping even to the most remote and disconnected areas of the world. Abbott notes, “By making her educational module available online, we give an immediate gift of new knowledge to GANM members and their networks of colleagues. In turn, they can give a gift of a different sort–a cancer screen with life-saving potential–to women throughout the globe. The immediacy and importance of the return on her work far outstrip that of a traditional written report on VIA that sits on a shelf somewhere. That’s the power of the new technology at its best.  Translational latency is a stealthy grim reaper, and we need to be innovative in getting what we know in our heads down to what we do with our hands.”

The GANM electronic Community of Practice, which today includes over 1,900 nurses and midwives from 136 countries worldwide, is managed and maintained by the JHUSON with support from the World Health Organization (WHO). Because it uses an electronic communication system designed for use in remote and/or low bandwidth settings, the GANM requires little more than e-mail access to unleash the power of the technology. As information and communication capacity continue their massive outward expansion, particularly in areas without running water or reliable electricity, the need for the GANM continues to grow. And that’s a good thing for the public health and for individual health worldwide.

Abbott points out, “Through GANM, nurses learn globally and act locally. By bringing new health practices to isolated nurses, midwives, and health workers with this low-cost, increasingly accessible technology, GANM helps us reduce the time it takes to move new knowledge from the research bench to nursing practice.  We are seeing an incredible growth in cellular telephony for health–the so called ‘mobile health movement (m-health)’–and we are reaching the frontline caregivers in the global battle for health by leapfrogging over landlines and traditional methods of information dissemination.  These new technologies are the equivalent of health information time travel.”