Let’s call him Dr. Fictitious.
He’s an eager young surgeon in training who’s going to demonstrate how medical video conferencing can help a student resident make the rounds at numerous hospitals and healthcare settings in a day.
We’ll equip him with an iPad and a webcam he can plug into his laptop back in his tiny office at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, the best hospital in Florida.
He used the nationwide contacts of his guiding physician to establish relationships with doctors all over the country, and a little personal initiative to make some cyber friendships with doctors overseas.
His day is about to begin, and it’s a packed schedule that will give him first-hand experience of healthcare settings, cases, and procedures from all length and breadth of the medical world.
Let’s start walking the wards.
Video Links across Healthcare Settings
Luckily for a young doctor facing a busy day, the first two stops on his itinerary are the only ones that’ll require any physical exertion.
- The first trip is down a flight of stairs to help a patient who reported to the emergency department last night, and is going to be moved to a nearby rehab facility. The patient won’t be moved until tomorrow, but our doctor is helping introduce her to the professionals who will oversee her recovery. With his carry-everywhere iPad, he puts in a video call to the patient’s destination, gives the answering nurse an overview of the situation, and then hands over his device so patient and nurse can learn a little about each other before they meet in person. It’s a newly adopted practice that helps ease patient anxiety as they make their way through the healthcare system and on to a full recovery.
- Next up, Dr. Fictitious is due to meet bedside with his supervisor and a team of online fellow trainee doctors as they go through a routine surgical follow-up. Again, he puts in a video call on his iPad, this time a group call, and he and his online colleagues listen and observe quietly as the resident surgeon goes about his check-up.
After stepping away from the bed to pose a few questions to the supervisor, it’s back to the office for some virtual travel.
The next stop is a more complicated one.
- Dr. Fictitious will be joining a group of medical students from Pakistan as they observe a Canadian surgeon perform a straightforward elbow operation. The students can’t disturb the operating surgeon, but they have an unencumbered view of the surgery, and can speak directly via video conference to a senior physician in attendance. While there isn’t much drama expected, there’s always something to be learned from observing a live operation.
- After that brief encounter, it’s time to move from iPad to laptop and visit with a general practitioner working within a rural community in New Mexico. Under a new program sponsored by the U.S. Senate, regional doctors are being paired with medical specialists via video calls to share diagnosis and treatment of patients too remote to seek expert care themselves. Our hero is able to participate in a three-cornered group video chat as an expert in hepatitis C guides the local doctor through what to expect and how to proceed with her new patient.
After that one, it’s time for a brief coffee break. That’s four different encounters with patients and doctors covering hundreds of miles, and it’s still only 11am. Not a bad start to the day.
Video Conferencing Can Shrink the Medical World
From here it gets hectic, so let’s summarize the next few visits.
- Sitting in on a virtual house call to an elderly former patient recovering from a fall
- Participating in a nutrition discussion with remotely located oncology patients
- Helping conduct eye examinations over an ultra-HD video link
- Attending a group video chat between a young couple, their doctor, and their premature baby still in the ICU
After all that variety, and a hearty real-world lunch, it’s back to the office and the webcam to join other remote trainees being guided around a ward in Kansas City.
Here the on-site doctor is alone and mutes his students’ microphones while he deals with patients so as to not overwhelm them. As he moves between patients, however, he switches the mic back on to field questions and explain his actions.
As a final port of call, Dr. Fictitious puts in a one-on-one video call to a surgeon in the UK who is trialing a new surgical approach to treating brain trauma. The two are able to share slides of brain scans, pages of experimental texts, and their general thoughts on how best to proceed and what to expect once the surgery begins.
So the day ends, and though our doctor-in-training may be mentally exhausted, he’s still got enough physical energy to ride his bike back home for the evening. Ten visits, ten unique experiences in a single day, taking in the views of doctors, patients, and colleagues while walking only a single flight of stairs.
Video conferencing is going to really shake up the way young doctors learn in the future.