Coordination of short-term trips: how the locals benefit

By Lawrence Loh, MD MPH

One of the first tangible benefits of an online web platform to coordinate short-term medical trips will be for the local leadership that receives these missions week after week. Often a hospital or a small local organization, these community leaders spend a lot of their energy on telling visiting teams what to bring down, what to expect, and what programs and issues need to be met, in hundreds of emails a day to dozens of teams with questions. On top of that, they coordinate the logistics, food and lodging, and questions that arise from teams that are already down to visit.

The leaders of these already resource strapped organizations are taken away from what they really should be doing: sharing their expert advice on what these short term volunteer trips should be focusing on, and leading their communities, building links between the visitors and their citizens, and understanding exactly what their community’s crucial, long-term needs are. Instead, they field emails and queries and the end result is that most of them serve as merely facilitators, instead of participants, giving a “laissez-faire” attitude to teams where anything and everything goes.

A coordinated web platform crowdsources that day to day information they have to provide. Instead of asking for an update on what’s on the ground, a team coming down and read about the last five teams’ trip reports, and review an up to date tracker in this web community to better understand exactly where the coordinated long-term projects are at. A real-time calendar and inventory allows the teams to plan ahead, thinking on what they need to source and bring. A wiki or forum of discussions and protocols shares trip preparation, trip debriefs, and answers the basic questions that new teams might have about heading down to help.

By doing so, this takes the burden of administrative work off the local leadership, and frees them up to do what they do best: lead. And of course, they could do so by easily being connected into the web platform community themselves.

So how would a website like this work? How are we developing ours? And where are we planning to implement it?
Our next post will begin to answer some of those key questions.

Dr. Lawrence Loh is Chief Medical Officer of The 53rd Week, and a physician in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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