October 12, 2009

Webwise nurses harness new media to improve global health

The Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing is harnessing the power of wireless technologies and online communities to help nurses throughout the world “connect for health.” Under the direction of Patricia A. Abbott, an associate professor in Nursing Systems and Outcomes, the school’s Global Alliance for Nursing and Midwifery Community of Practice, or GANM, speeds 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, a graduate of the school, worked with Abbott’s GANM team and created a mechanism for using new media to improve lifesaving skills among geographically distributed areas. Poon; Abbott; Kathleen Woodruff, an instructor in Community Health Nursing; and others developed a high-quality freely downloadable educational module, in Spanish and English, for use by globally dispersed nurses and midwives. The module focuses on cervical cancer detection using visual inspection with ascetic acid, 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 percent 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 the inspections.

What began as a scholarly project for Poon’s graduate studies has become an important and accessible contribution to women’s health.

“By making her educational module available online,” Abbott said, “we give an immediate gift of new knowledge to GANM members and their networks of colleagues. The immediacy and importance of the return on her work far outstrip that of a traditional written report that sits on a shelf somewhere. That’s the power of the new technology at its best.”

The GANM electronic Community of Practice, which today includes more than 1,900 nurses and midwives from 136 countries, is managed and maintained by the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing with support from the World Health Organization.