IMB using telemedicine to create gospel access

Sitting in a home office in Ohio, a doctor logs onto her laptop at 3:30 a.m. Across the globe it’s mid-morning. The doctor smiles at a face that pops up on her screen. Consulting with her patient, she asks what brought him in today. Then she listens, in real time, to his heartbeat.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

His heart sounds stable. That’s a good sign. Next, a nurse next to the patient in the clinic holds an otoscope to the man’s ear. A live video of the veiny, flesh-colored ear drum appears on the doctor’s screen in the U.S.

As the doctor does a visual assessment of the patient, she diagnoses him. The infection that has been causing pain in his ear is curable, with the right medicine. She then consults with the nurse, and the team is able to get the patient treatment.

Through telemedicine strategies employed by the International Mission Board, missionaries around the globe are able to provide a reinvented mobile medical clinic. Thousands of miles across the Atlantic, doctors are able to treat people in desperate need of physical and spiritual care. Technology makes this possible, as well as the gifts of Southern Baptists that provide the medical clinics’ kits.

When COVID-19 hit, most of the Western world became acquainted with telemedicine. Just as one would FaceTime their grandma across the country, people now often consult with their doctor via a video screen. Dr. Geoff Little, an engineer-turned-physician who volunteers his time meeting needs across the globe, wondered why this same strategy couldn’t be employed to increase gospel access in hard-to-reach places. To fill a need, he created the kits.

Patients in Ukraine consult with doctors from the United States via telemedicine kits at a clinic set up by national believers. (IMB photo)

Because of the kits and clinics, Little was able to see Amahle’s eternity changed. Amahle is an 11-year-old daughter of a witch doctor. Everyone around her was convinced she was possessed by a demon.

For as long as her parents could remember, their daughter had suffered violent seizures – three per day. Their area is isolated from most medical care. To protect her, the family chained Amahle to a tree in their compound.

In desperation, the village witch doctor reached out to Christians in a local church. Was there anything they could do? He asked them to pray for his daughter. The church prayed and connected with IMB missionaries several hours away, asking for help.

The desperate dad was right: All the witchcraft in the world couldn’t solve her problems. However, through the clinic, Little diagnosed her correctly and prescribed medicine and a care plan for her seizures.

On any given Sunday now, Amahle can be found in the local church, smile on her face, praising Jesus who she recognizes as Savior. Through the IMB workers, national Christians, and Little, her mother also saw her greatest need – spiritual lostness – met alongside the physical needs of her daughter. While the family still prays for the salvation of Amahle’s father, a new church has been planted in a nearby village.

The kit that saved Amahle’s life was funded through the IMB’s Dr. Rebekah Naylor Preach and Heal Fund. It’s a fully equipped telemedicine kit. It’s about 14 inches wide, and inside there’s a Microsoft Surface pro tablet, a speaker phone, a webcam, a stethoscope that plugs right into the computer, and a Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure cuff and pulse oximeter. Currently, the IMB has two of these kits and has done telemedicine consultations in 10 countries. The hope is to soon have many more kits on the field to connect the least-reached to medical providers.

“There are people all over this world who have to go a tremendous journey to see even the most low-level medical provider,” Little said, explaining his heart for this ministry. Now through this ministry, a clinic is taken via a mobile phone right to their villages.

More than 30 providers comprise Little’s team. They are physicians, physician assistants and certified registered nurse practitioners in many specialties who have the desire to preach and heal. Little recruits them at events like the IMB’s MedAdvance conference and through other IMB healthcare strategies.

Through the local clinic and national doctors, medication or follow-up care is prescribed, and lives are changed. More than 20 have made professions of faith due to this telemedicine strategy.

As each person enters the clinics, national believers and IMB missionaries greet them and share hope of the gospel as well as the hope that proper medical care provides to improve their quality of life on this side of eternity.

Dr. Tom Hicks, the IMB’s new director of Global Health Strategies, expressed his gratitude for the impact of the project. “By partnering with national believers and healthcare providers, we can capitalize on openings for clinics in days rather than months. We can see an opportunity to care for hurting people on Thursday and be doing clinic with national partners by Monday morning.”

Hicks explained that because the clinics work with national partners, the patients can connect with local churches and believers. “Our telemedicine consultants work with the technology and national translators and church planters to see the gospel get to the lost in new and exciting ways,” he said.

Dr. Rick Dunbar, an emergency room doctor and chairman of the IMB’s health strategies advisory group, commented, “Geoff (Little) is using his skills and training to create gospel access. Through this strategy, he’s also creating jobs for nationals. And the teams are getting behind closed doors and getting the chance to share the gospel with the unreached while taking care of them medically.”

“Isn’t it amazing?” he asked.

(*Some names may have been changed for security purposes.) 

— Myriah Snyder writes and edits for the IMB.