In an era where technology connects people from thousands of miles around the globe, Armenia Fund’s HyeBridge Telemedicine program continues to create a far-reaching and influential educational forum through just a click of a button. Linking medical minds from the Diaspora to the homeland, the long-standing innovative program, entering its 15th year, remains a leader in driving the healthcare industry forward in Armenia and Artsakh.
The visionary initiative of HyeBridge, established in 2004, incorporates videoconferencing technologies with the goal of connecting doctors and healthcare providers in the Diaspora with their brethren in Armenia and Artsakh. In addition to providing medical information and organizing training and seminars, the teleconferences aim to forge professional ties and collaboration among Armenian in the medical industry around the world.
“HyeBridge provides a platform that encourages the exchange of education, ideas and opinions,” said Lisa Stepanian, Executive Director of Armenia Fund USA. “The vast network that has been created as a result of this telemedicine program benefits not only the physicians and healthcare workers, but essentially the patients.”
Since its inception, the program has flourished, carrying out 22 teleconferences on a yearly basis in the areas of cardiology, endocrinology, surgery, and transmissible diseases, ultimately bringing together 800 medical professionals and physicians. Forming a common space of participation despite geographic distance, doctors from international cities such as Cleveland, New York, Tel Aviv, Stepanakert, and Yerevan have joined in medical discussions and trainings in real time both in Armenia and in Artsakh.
For over a decade now, the program has been led by the in-country project manager Dr. Gevorg Yaghjyan, who has championed the telemedicine program since its pilot with polyclinics in the hospitals of Artsakh. A proponent of “smart” technologies, including video, smartphones, and tablets, he sees telemedicine as the future of medical education.
“Armenia Fund understood the importance of this program and the significance of continuing medical education from the very beginning,” said Yaghjyan, a former Fulbright Scholar at Boston University School of Medicine. “No organization except Armenia Fund saw that telemedicine is the future direction.” Despite the initial challenges of Internet speed and IT software, Armenia Fund invested in the project and became “a supporter from the start.”
As Vice Dean of Postgraduate Medical Education at Yerevan State Medical University, Yaghjyan, a physician and plastic surgeon who has taught courses at Harvard and Yale Medical School, discovered that doctors of many regions of Armenia and Artsakh had not been through additional training post-medical school graduation.
“The benefit of this program is that we bring updated medical knowledge to healthcare professionals without troubling them,” said Yaghjian. “It’s important for regional doctors to network with professionals in Armenia and the Diaspora.”
Live diagnostic sessions are organized in medical centers, hospitals and universities throughout Armenia and Artsakh, enabling hundreds to sign into the web conferences, despite physical distance. The number of participating doctors and hospitals has only continued to grow, according to Yaghjyan, who organizes two teleconferences per month and seeks partnerships with the U.S. and Europe “to create a bridge on an institutional level.”
HyeBridge’s success can be attributed to its unifying efforts with other organizations, partnering up with key groups in the Diaspora and the homeland, including the Armenian American Health Professionals Organization (AAHPO) and Yerevan State Medical University, along with the web-based consultation firm iConsult, as well as Karabakh Telecom and VivaCell, leading providers of internet and telecommunications in the region.
The collaboration of both nonprofits and technology-driven companies has stimulated learning on a higher level and given more confidence to the regional doctors and professionals.
“The continuing medical education lectures give a new opportunity to share news with regional doctors,” said Dr. Hamayak Sisakian, Head of General and Invasive Cardiology at University Hospital 1 in Yerevan. “It’s important to remain active in the provinces, especially when there are new international recommendations and guidelines to follow.”
“The telemedicine program is a great opportunity for our colleagues from remote regions to be informed of modern medicine achievements, new therapeutic approaches and protocols,” said Dr. Narine Movsisyan, Anesthesiology and Infectious Disease Lecturer at Yerevan State Medical University. “HyeBridge allows healthcare professionals to communicate directly with leading specialists who are willing to share their time and modern knowledge.”
Many doctors who have years of professional experience, including Samvel Poghosyan, an anesthesiologist at the Abovyan Medical Center in Abovyan, Armenia, are rejuvenated by the prospect of furthering their education and hope that “through modern technologies these trainings will be expanded both in terms of lecturers and themes and in terms of audience.”
While HyeBridge has advanced since its founding, Yaghjyan’s larger vision is to have the program officially recognized by Armenia’s Ministry of Health so participants receive credit as part of their ongoing continuing medical education, which is provided by healthcare professionals from AAHPO, a New Jersey-based medical network.
“We are collaborative,” said Dr. Lawrence Najarian, Chair of AAHPO, which also focuses on mentoring and medical mission programs. “It’s the perfect marriage with Armenia Fund, that has the telecommunications infrastructure and for AAHPO, which has the medical skill set and expertise.”
Najarian saw the significance early on of sharing medical knowledge with their colleagues because of their “geographically isolated” positions and lack of funds to attend worldwide conferences or access medical information online, which can be costly.
“We view the HyeBridge program as a critical arm for sharing medical information and as a way to foster personal relationships with doctors in Armenia and in Artsakh,” said Najarian, noting that through the program, “doctors know where to turn for trusted information that will help Armenia’s population.”
Exposing healthcare professionals to new techniques and engaging them in dialogue is the key to the expanding program.
“We have seen first-hand the benefits of HyeBridge and its ability to share lifesaving knowledge across borders,” said Stepanian. “We look forward to continuing to develop our technologies to help even more doctors and patients.”