Cloud-based tablets put patient information at doctors’ fingertips.

A world of smiles

Operation Smile's new tools lead to better health

A doctor meets a boy in a small Ethiopian school.

The boy has felt the furtive glances of his friends and family rest on his mouth. He's seen his parents brought to tears when he struggles to eat, drink, speak, and sometimes even breathe. The boy looks at the doctor with hope in his eyes and a prayer in his heart. And in this room, converted for the day into a health clinic, the doctor feels the boy’s pain, but instead of sorrow, he feels joy. Because he has the skills and tools to treat the problem: a cleft palate.

Dr. Ruben Ayala, Senior Vice President of Operation Smile, is one of thousands of doctors and specialists who work for the organization. This group of medical professionals travels globally and performs corrective surgeries for children with cleft lips or palates.

On his first trip with the organization at age 17, Dr. Ayala was a volunteer translator for surgeons. After seeing hundreds of suffering kids benefit from that mission, and the quality of care paid to each, he decided to pursue a career in medicine.

"What was striking for me was that these doctors saw these children in the way a father would look at his child. I could tell there was a sense of service to mankind, and they really wanted to make a difference. It was an amazing experience."

Operation Smile recognized Dr. Ayala’s passion and gave him the responsibility of overseeing the Operation Smile program in developing countries. In this role, he has learned firsthand how the organization's worldwide presence can bring some unique challenges.

“We knew if we could find a way to improve our global communications, we could plan missions more effectively, prepare for and react to needs more quickly, and ultimately heal more smiles.”

- Dr. Ruben Ayala

And that's when fate decided to step in. On a 2010 flight from Beijing to Seattle, the founders of Operation Smile, Dr. Bill and Kathleen Magee, met Paul Smolke, Microsoft's Industry Managing Director of Worldwide Health. It's hard to imagine a more fortuitous plane ride.

The story of an intrepid team of doctors blazing trails of smiles through the developing world resonated with Smolke, and he knew his team could help. He studied Operation Smile's workflow and put together a three-part solution to make long-distance communications easier.

With help from Microsoft partner Synergy Technical, Smolke was able to use Office 365 to increase individual and team productivity. Staff communication was simplified with donations of video conference and Telemedicine capabilities from Polycom. On top of that, with a donation of 50 tablets from Asus, Sláinte Healthcare kickstarted an Electronic Health Record pilot.

The next step was to move from paper to digital medical forms. Keeping the format identical allowed for a seamless transition and earned positive feedback from the volunteers. As a result, the Electronic Health Care pilot is planned for implementation across all Operation Smile sites.

The new technology debuted November 2014 on a mission to Hanoi, Vietnam. Patient information was captured electronically with Asus Transformer 2-in-1 devices running Windows 8.

When the mission was done, more than 125 successful smile surgeries had been performed.

"The backlog of worldwide cleft cases is ever-growing, and if we continue to plan and train in the traditional way, we will never catch up. But we found a way to overcome hurdles,” says Dr. Ayala.

As more missions use the new technology, more data will be captured for deeper analysis. Suddenly, details from the boy's surgery in Ethiopia are more than an individual case: they're a thread in a tapestry of understanding.

Operation Smile's new tools give them a wide-angle lens to identify common threads in all the information collected since the organization began. Which means studying cleft deformities and figuring out what causes them, and how to prevent them, are much closer to reach.

According to Dr. Ayala, “Our dream is to get the complete story so that we are learning from our patients how to prevent this deformity and take better care of them and of more people in the future."

Dr. Ayala knows there's a lot of work to do: growing Operation Smile's network of volunteers, training new members, extending surgery availability to more locations, and gaining a deeper understanding of the cleft facial deformity. But with strong technology that matches the organization's spirit, Operation Smile now has the power to make sure everyone gets the healthy smile they deserve.

Now the little boy in the small school in Ethiopia has the biggest smile in his village. Like a smile that goes from ear to ear, Operation Smile's network is spreading from one end of earth to the other.

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