Our People

New technology supports medical relief in Guatemala

Photo courtesy Thrive Health

For the first time in two years, Providence Health Care’s Head of Anesthesia, Dr. Jim Kim, and the Team Broken Earth Vancouver volunteer surgical team will embark on a medical relief mission to Guatemala this October.

To date, the Lower Mainland-based volunteer group has performed 116 surgeries in Guatemala City. This fall they hope to perform 70 to 80 more essential surgeries in women’s health/gynecology, orthopedics, general surgery, and plastic surgery.

In addition to surgical care, the team will “go live” with a new electronic platform designed to improve access to patient health information for local and international health care providers. The project was a joint initiative of Thrive Health, Partner for Surgery, Team Broken Earth Vancouver, and the St. Paul’s Hospital anesthesia department.  

Learn more about that project in the story that follows (originally published March 25, 2022).

Dr. Jim Kim travels to Guatemala with a volunteer surgical team for one week each year to provide much-needed health and surgical care to people living in rural Indigenous communities.

The trips are organized by Team Broken Earth, a non-profit group that conducts medical relief missions in several countries. Dr. Kim, who is Head of the Department of Anesthesia at Providence Health Care, goes down with a group of Lower Mainland surgeons and nurses, many of whom work at St. Paul’s Hospital like himself. They perform approximately 80 cleft palate, plastics, and ortho surgeries each trip.

Dr. Jim Kim

Their missions to Guatemala have been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but when Dr. Kim and his team embark on their next trip – scheduled for October of this year – there will be new technology in place to support their work.

New platform streamlines care

In January, Vancouver-based Thrive Health launched new software in Guatemala designed to reduce pre-screening times, expedite triaging, and keep patients informed and connected with their care providers following surgery.

Thrive developed the web-based patient information platform in collaboration with Dr. Kim, Providence Health Care and Team Broken Earth, as well as the Guatemalan organization, Partner in Surgery, which connects patients in need of health and surgical care in remote communities with international volunteer medical teams.

Prior to the introduction of this software, Dr. Kim says most surgical pre-screening and patient follow-up was done on paper. This resulted in occasional miscommunications where patients traveled from neighbouring villages and cities only to discover they could not receive surgery.

“It was really sad to see that the patients couldn’t receive health care, even though they came from hundreds of miles away,” says Dr. Kim. “So instead of doing this paper-based system, we decided to go online.”

Photo courtesy Thrive Health

The web platform allows Partner in Surgery health promoters, who speak the local Mayan languages and do outreach in rural communities, to share photos and patient information with the international medical teams, and vice versa. It also keeps patients informed and connected with their care providers following surgery.  

The software was made possible thanks to a generous monetary donation and the fact that Thrive Health donated their time and energy to the project.

Photo courtesy Thrive Health

High rate of cleft lip and palate

Dr. Kim has been volunteering in under-resourced countries for many years. In addition to Guatemala, he has also participated in medical missions to Haiti and Rwanda.

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of children born with cleft lip and cleft palate, Dr. Kim says, but adds that there are many other surgical needs, including for gynecological and orthopedic trauma procedures.

For him, social justice and the ability to give back motivates him to volunteer for these missions. That, and the privilege of having received his medical education in Canada.

“If you wish to work outside of Canada, that level of training and acceptance enables you to do it. There’s no question that you’re qualified,” he says.

He looks forward to seeing the Thrive Health technology in action this fall.