Laura Purdy is a U.S. doctor on Ukraine’s front lines. In her case, that’s a computer screen in Tennessee.
“Patients that I have talked to from some of the larger cities in Ukraine are fearful of leaving their homes because of air raid sirens or offshore attacks,” said Purdy, a surgeon who, until 2016, served in the U.S. Army’s units that provide health care to civilians worldwide. “They need/want to speak to a physician but are fearful to venture out to do so.”
Purdy now cares for patients in Kyiv and other cities under Russian attack through Starlink, an internet constellation of some 2,000 satellites operated by billionaire Elon Musk’s private firm SpaceX.
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and as of March 30, 1,189 Ukrainians had been killed and 1,901 injured, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office.
U.S. doctors are stepping up to provide much-needed advice via telehealth, a practice honed during the pandemic, to the Ukranian soldiers, civilians and refugees injured in the fighting or attempting to manage chronic diseases amid the chaos.
Purdy is just one of the many physicians who have joined Aimee, a 10-year-old telehealth platform headquartered in Silicon Valley. Having built the telehealth systems for the International Space Station and SpaceX, Aimee is staffed by self-described “nerds who want to make a difference” and are now partnering with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health to provide Ukrainians with free telemedicine visits.
By using the Aimee app, Purdy said, patients can get advice and treatment recommendations from a U.S. physician while they remain in a safe location.
Milton Chen, founder and CEO of VSee, the telehealth company that launched Aimee, said a “couple thousand” physicians and a “couple hundred” translators have joined the platform to provide 24/7 telecare in Ukraine. The doctors provide care for battlefield trauma injuries as well as basics such as prenatal care, chronic disease management and mental health services.
“You could do a remote ultrasound; you could connect to a digital stethoscope to listen to someone’s heart and lung sound. All these medical signals will stream live to the physicians — so other than physically touching the patient — and the physician could get quite a bit of information on the patient,” he said via video.
Through telemedicine, Purdy treated a legally blind man who relies on his family for all his daily needs. Purdy helped him set up a free consultation with an ophthalmologist to interpret tests he underwent in Ukraine.
“This occurred in a city that was actively under attack, and we were able to provide advice and support to the patient while allowing him to stay safely sheltered in place,” she told VOA Mandarin.
The lack of medicine is one of the biggest hurdles for patients in Ukraine, said Purdy, who earned her medical degree at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
“The pharmacies have run out of medication, or they are closed. So, many times we find patients who we can give medical recommendations to, but they may not have access to the pharmaceuticals that they need to treat the condition they are experiencing,” she said.
And while remote doctors can’t solve challenges such as the lack of insulin for patients with diabetes, they can provide much-needed assistance. Dr. Mohamed Aburawi, founder and CEO of Speetar, a telehealth platform founded in 2017 to operate in Libya, told Forbes that “every day a conflict lasts, the situation worsens, and telehealth provides care, relief and stability to communities and people that need it most. Our own experience in protracted conflict highlights how telehealth maintains continuity of care for refugees, migrants and internally displaced populations.”
Telemedicine can also include teaching patients how to stop bleeding from wounds and injuries, a challenge for citizens in war zones, said Patricia Turner, executive director of the American College of Surgeons, which since 2015 has trained people without medical backgrounds through the Stop the Bleed initiative launched by the White House.
“When you bleed … you can actually die in as quickly as five minutes, so stopping the bleeding helps … save a life,” she told VOA Mandarin.
Two doctors who have family ties to Ukraine and work at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, turned to telemedicine and developed a training video for Ukrainians.
Dr. Nelya Melnitchouk, a Ukraine native, came up with the idea for the video, and Dr. Eric Goralnick, who is of Ukrainian descent, helped organize the collaboration between the hospital and the Stop the Bleed initiative, according to The Boston Globe.
The training course can be finished in a few hours, Turner said, and can help health care workers and the public learn how to effectively stop bleeding.
“More than 100 people are being trained every other day,” she said. “We’re doing it via video so you can watch them on YouTube. We’re also doing them live remotely so that we can answer questions.”