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Doctors, Engineer Explore Care for Terminally Ill in Developing World

Providing care for those around the world who are experiencing health-related suffering is the topic of discussion for the next Technology & Society Colloquia Series program at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

“Medical Care on the Edge: Redesigning Care Across Cultures,” will be presented at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 in the Klump Academic Center Auditorium by Thomas E. Ask, Penn College professor of industrial design; and UPMC Susquehanna’s Dr. John Boll, associate director of the Williamsport Family Medicine Residency, and Dr. Alexander Nesbitt, medical director for Susquehanna Hospice, Supportive and Palliative Care and Gatehouse Inpatient Hospice Unit.

Thomas E. Ask
Thomas E. Ask
Dr. Alexander Nesbitt
Dr. Alexander Nesbitt
Dr. John Boll
Dr. John Boll

According to the presenters’ research, the World Health Organization estimates that more than 30 million people each year are in need of care to support them and palliate – or alleviate – their symptoms during their terminal illnesses, but the vast majority cannot get this care. The symptoms that afflict people contending with advanced illness include pain, “air hunger,” nausea and vomiting, delirium, and anxiety.

In the U.S., a treatment plan – including medications to relieve these symptoms – is devised by a medical team, but in the developing world, access to these medications is very limited.

During the presentation, Boll, whose areas of teaching include chronic pain management and care for patients in underserved communities, will discuss just what it means for a person to experience a scarcity, specifically the scarcity of pain-management options.

“One out of 10 people who need hospice or palliative care worldwide have access to it,” Boll said. “We have to find a way to support the communities, or support caregivers, to actually be able to provide hospice and palliative care.”

Nesbitt, who collaborates with UPMC Susquehanna’s sister hospital, Shirati Hospital in Shirati, Tanzania, will discuss the difference technology is making in areas with relatively few resources. He will address how to use technology to advance and extend relationship-based care with palliative care teams, both in the United States and Africa.

“Some of those technologies are really, really simple,” Boll said, such as, in Shirati, the use of a bicycle to reach more patients.

Ask, a licensed professional engineer who holds a doctorate in industrial design, will talk about how technology can be used for diagnosis, treatment recommendations and monitoring in resource-poor areas. He will also present user-centric ethnographic design approaches for those who are suffering. The talk will address the potential and the challenges of such technologies.

Overall, the presenters hope to advance study in the area of palliative and hospice care in low-resource areas.

“It’s really fun to talk about technology and what might happen in the future,” Boll said. “But what’s really important is that any solution has to be patient-centered. We have to keep in mind: Patients are really suffering. … Pain is complex and it needs a complex, multi-faceted approach to assist people and address the core of what the issues are.”

The group’s research was published in the March 2017 newsletter of Design for All Institute of India in an article titled “Steps Toward Integrative Palliative Care in the Developing World.”

A question-and-answer period will follow the presentation in the auditorium; the conversation can also resume during a reception that will follow downstairs in the Wrapture dining unit.

Honoring Daniel J. Doyle, professor emeritus and Penn College’s 1984 Master Teacher, the Colloquia Series features presentations by noted authors and academics who challenge audiences to consider the impact of technology on society.

To learn more about the industrial design major at Penn College, call 570-327-4520.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education and workforce development, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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