Innovating life-changing care

How Mercy Ships is utilizing technology to provide much-needed medical care to underserved populations around the world.

By Dave Shwadlenak, vice president of information systems at Mercy Ships

Innovation has been at the foundation of healthcare since the beginning of time. Bringing groundbreaking solutions to the most complex medical problems has allowed societies to heal, grow and flourish. By providing much-needed surgical and medical care to underserved populations around the world, Mercy Ships continues that legacy of innovation in healthcare. Currently, 5 billion global citizens lack access to safe surgery. The consequences of which can inhibit individuals’ quality of life and negatively affect communities for generations.

Mercy Ships uses state-of-the-art hospital ships to transform lives and serve multiple global communities by providing eye care, palliative care, mental healthcare, and life-changing surgeries to those who need them most. By providing access to medical training for local professionals and leading-edge medical tools and facilities, we help communities grow a better and more healthy future, one patient at a time. In my time as vice president of information systems at Mercy, I’ve had the privilege to witness how transformative care creates meaningful impact. And we’ve learned to rely heavily on the people, processes and technology we employ to help us carry out this impactful mission.

A tale of two ships

Mercy Ships at Sea

As an organization, our commitment to improving our processes has been elemental to our success. On one of our older ships, the Africa Mercy, our system was composed of disparate technologies. We had no storage, no backup and were using multiple vendors and places for support. This wasn’t integrated or scalable.

We realized if we wanted to scale up to operate two or more ships that could provide enterprise resources planning, electric medical records, and instructional technology we needed, we were going to need a partner that could help us move from a localized data center to a network that we could operate using our international support center. We were intrigued by the idea of hyperconverged infrastructure, so the decision was made to partner with Dell Technologies, who had the most maturity in the industry. Beginning with our new ship, the Global Mercy, Dell had the best solution for our needs and have been with us all along the journey to implement the technology so that we can continue our innovation journey.

Don’t hesitate. Innovate.

The Innovation Index, a study by Dell, found that 59% of all IT decision makers polled feel they don’t have the capacity to innovate with edge technology. Before partnering with Dell for our upgraded HCI, we were in that camp. We realized that if we were going to innovate, we’d need to do so with intentionality. So, there were three primary components we were seeking in our technology partner that we knew intuitively would serve our patient and provider needs.

1. Stability

Our ships are manned almost entirely with volunteers, which we are so fortunate to have. But that type of provider turnover means we need stable infrastructure. HCI system software has enabled a seamless adoption of modern tech that create the ideal platform across core, cloud and edge technology.

 2. Reliability

To the degree we were able to, we wanted to future-proof our systems. When it comes to caring for people, you need reliable, secure technology. Time should be spend focusing on patients, rather than broken our outdated technology. In the end, it has allowed us to get better patient outcomes faster.

3. Customizability

Before we had HCI, everything had to be encapsulated aboard the ship. We had limited ability to seek outside counsel, x-rays, and consult with external experts. Now we have the freedom to share and access data to ensure that each patient gets the proper care. The doctors and providers who come aboard our ships are obviously well-trained medical professionals, but some have not had the experience to operate in this unique environment. Our transformation has enabled us to provide enhanced training and medical facilities to our people so that they can be prepared for surgery and care.

The impact of healthcare at the edge

Mercy providers practicing surgical skills

When it comes to innovation, it’s all about people, process and technology. For us, our ongoing partnership with Dell has provided the support we need, while reducing our technical debt and spending. The edge is creating opportunity for transformative innovations in multiple industries, and in Mercy Ships, we can see the impact the tech has had on how we practice healthcare. We’ve been able to easily maintain our infrastructure, while improving the speed and quality of the care we provide.

Mercy Ships is unique in that we’re able to take hospital ships to Africa and other nations where people are in desperate need of surgical care. We bring an entire health care system to the people who need it most. Every day, I get to be a part of changing someone’s life, as does everyone within our organization. When I see a young man who is unable to walk because of physical limitations in his legs and months later, I see the same young man playing soccer, I feel grateful to be able to do what I do. And to me, that’s the definition of innovative success.

“Innovators We Love” is a series that highlights top innovative Dell partners who are impacting the world with innovative ideas and technological transformation.The series is inspired by Dell’s Innovation Index, which provides insight on what global decision makers are doing to create innovation resilience in turbulent times.