Operation Smile

At a Glance

  • Specialists reaching rural patients through video
  • Better medical outcomes through better collaboration

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Operation Smile is an international medical non-profit organization founded in 1982 by Dr. William P. Magee Jr. and his wife Kathleen (Kathy) S. Magee. Its focus is specifically on the treatment of cleft lip, cleft palate and dental and facial conditions that are life-altering for children and young adults.

"We believe that every child deserves access to safe, well-timed and effective surgery," said Kathy Magee, President, Operation Smile. “Further, we know that if we don’t provide these life altering surgeries, there is no guarantee someone else will.”

Mission challenges

Medical missions are planned and executed hundreds of times a year in the poorest and most underserved areas. Leading up to each mission and over several months, leaders collaborate to cover logistics, awareness, budgeting, contingencies and coordination of medical facilities. To ensure the best outcomes, employees and volunteers depend on the latest in communication technology. And because the staff is often in multiple locations around the world, they need solutions that are flexible, interoperable and reliable in the most challenging network environments.

Mission success

One such medical mission was recently held in Agadir, Morocco, where more than 335 families gathered with a hope of receiving treatment. Some families traveled for hundreds of miles for many days by any means possible to see the volunteer force of 124 doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, speech therapists and dentists. For two days, these families moved through multiple stations in the hospital for evaluation. If they were lucky enough to meet the necessary health conditions for a safe surgery and were otherwise prioritized for surgery, they returned for a typical one-hour procedure in the following week.

“When we approach communication technologies, our delivery environment is complex, and resources constrained,” said Chris Bryant, SVP of Enterprise Applications and Technology, Operation Smile.

Operation Smile has a special interest in post-operative care, as once the child has healed, they have a new outlook on life. However, there’s often more work to be done.

“If you're a cleft palate patient, you're unlikely to develop effective speech unless you undergo extensive speech therapy,” said Bryant.

There certainly are challenges in keeping in contact with patients once they return home to ensure they’re practicing their speech therapy. Many patients are too poor or lack resources for regular visits to larger cities to ensure their children get the best possible post-operative care.

That’s why the interest Operation Smile has in using Polycom video conferencing solutions to bridge the gap between operations and post-operative care. The solutions can connect speech therapists from anywhere in the world to small-town clinics, villages and homes for continued care. The quality of life improvements to the children extend to the care provider, too.

“When I spend time with these children, I sometimes get quite close. It would be very nice to be able to follow up with their treatments,” said Megan Kiesinger, Volunteer Speech Pathologist.

Research and education

The missions are a miracle to witness, with incredibly committed professionals from around the world coming together for a common goal. But the mission will not end until Operation Smile has fully eradicated cleft lip and cleft palate worldwide. Continued research and training are necessary for better understanding and insights into properly treating this cruel deformity.

“We're really excited about using Polycom video conferencing technology to extend the reach of our services and treat patients more efficiently,” said Bryant.

As example, Operation Smile also has trialed the use of video conferencing between anesthesia residents at the University of Virginia Medical Center and Jima University in Ethiopia to boost medical skills in the region, which improves the overall health of everyone.  

“Our goal is to be able to go beyond our operational use to extend video technology in new and exciting ways around telemedicine,” said Bryant. “I believe we have the perfect environment to achieve success here in Morocco, and then use that as a best practice for the rest of the world.”

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