Making Strides to Improve Health Care Communication, One Step at a Time

Don Martin (center) is collaborating with Jake Bronowski (left), a graduate student in the College of Communication, and David Miller (right), dean of College of Computing and Digital Media, to develop a Web portal for Operation Walk Chicago. (Photo by Jeff Carrion)
When Don Martin, a professor and associate dean in the College of Communication, joined the board of directors for Operation Walk Chicago in April 2013, he wasted little time putting his skills to use.

A not-for-profit medical organization that works in partnership with NorthShore University HealthSystem, Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Skokie Hospital, Operation Walk Chicago sends volunteer Health Care teams of orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists to countries around the world to help disadvantaged patients who suffer from joint disease. In November, the organization sent a team to Saigon, Vietnam. They spent two weeks performing more than 70 hip and knee replacements and implementing physical therapy programs. But the work doesn't end when Operation Walk Chicago returns home.

After every mission, the volunteer medical teams need to stay in contact with the hospitals in the country where they operated in order to assess patient progress. They use email and interpreters for translation, but communication challenges create a barrier.

That's where Martin, an expert in health care communication and patient advocacy, saw the opportunity to help. He believes a sophisticated Web portal that would allow doctors in the two countries to easily converse and track patient progress may be the solution. "It's a place where doctors can have conversations. We want it to be an ongoing doctor-to-doctor forum," he said.

Martin recruited Jake Bronowski, a graduate student in the College of Communication, to assess Operation Walk's communication needs. Steven Awalt, web content adminstrator for the College of Communication, analyzed the organization's website and suggested improvements. David Miller, dean of the College of Computing and Digital Media, volunteered to help create the portal. The interdisciplinary teamwork didn't end there.

Rev. Hoang Pham, C.M., of the Office of Mission and Values agreed to serve as a translator. The Office of International Students and Scholars offered to recruit Vietnamese graduate students to volunteer as interpreters. Each day, an assigned interpreter will monitor and translate messages on the portal, keeping communications timely.

Martin, who is the director of graduate studies and program development in the College of Communication, is no stranger to interdisciplinary projects. "I love building things and bringing groups together," he said. "I get very excited about what I can provide professionally while also creating opportunities for graduate students from several colleges."

Martin has facilitated the development of four interdisciplinary graduate programs. His work with Operation Walk Chicago is the first model designed to connect a DePaul graduate program with the international service initiatives assumed by prominent hospitals in the Chicago area.

The portal is now in its first stages of implementation. In the future, the site will offer training resources and teaching information for doctors in other countries prior to missions.

Martin plans to accompany Operation Walk Chicago on an upcoming visit to Nepal. In addition to his communications expertise, as a former hip surgery patient, he knows a thing or two about helping people learn how to walk again.