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Digital X-ray Systems Implemented in Guatemala

A digital x-ray system that began as an undergraduate senior design project at the McCormick School of Engineering has now been implemented at two sites in Guatemala.

The systems, implemented in Salud y Bienestar Clinica Municipal in Guatemala City and in Dr. Gustavo Casteneda Palacios Hospitalito in rural Rio Hondo, have already made an impact: one hospital evaluated 139 children in the first three days and was able to host a team of volunteer orthopedic surgeons as a result of the new digital X‐ray capabilities.

“This project serves as a great example of the impact McCormick students’ ideas can have worldwide,” said Matthew Glucksberg, professor of biomedical engineering who worked extensively on the project. “Over the past five years it has gone from idea to implementation, with real results.”

The project began with student Michael Hoaglin, who is now a medical student at the University of Pennsylvania. Graduate students and faculty spent years on the initiative, trying to find the best, low-cost way to provide x-ray systems to the developing world, where clinics are faced with low budgets and little technology. There, x-ray machines that require expensive chemicals and film are often eventually locked away in storage closets due to the lack of funding. Digital x-ray systems eliminate the need for expensive chemicals and film, allow for quick diagnosis, electronic storage and transport to radiographers around the world, and myriad viewing options.

In 2007, Northwestern partnered with the University of Cape Town, International Rotary Clubs, and others to create the World Health Imaging, Telemedicine, and Informatics Alliance (WHITIA). Students in McCormick’s Global Health Technologies program — working with the University of Cape Town in South Africa — worked to develop a solution. In 2008, McCormick graduate students traveled to Cape Town to install the first system, which included software for viewing and storing the image, as well as for patient management.

Now the project has been taken over by WHITIA, whose board has several Northwestern connections, including Northwestern Trustees Michael Ferro, Newton Minow, and Tim Krauskopf. Ivy Walker, CEO of WHITIA and graduate of the Kellogg School of Management, hopes these sites can be models for future sites worldwide.

“Many thousands of individuals in urban Guatemala City and rural Rio Hondo now have access to an important, essential healthcare technology through their community medical providers,” she said. “This technology will be used to significantly improve the delivery of care in the communities served by these medical facilities. We look forward to helping these sites continue to improve their ability to provide quality medical care through the addition of telemedicine. We also look forward to using these sites as models for additional installations.”