If you’re older than 30 you’re among the last generation to be impressed with the internet.
You didn’t grow up Googling information for class projects in elementary school. You couldn’t instantly download any song you could hum in middle school. And you almost certainly couldn’t Skype relatives half a world away while in high school.
So while your younger cousins think nothing of using a Twitter link to watch a live stream of a protest unfolding a dozen time zones away, you can still appreciate the technology that has shrunk the globe to the size of a smartphone.
And you’d probably be far more impressed than they are to learn that young surgeons in Karachi, Pakistan are now learning their trade by watching live surgeries being performed around the world.
Video Conferencing Now Trains Surgeons
The surgical video conferencing link-ups are part of a broader, technology-driven healthcare education system at Aga Khan University’s Centre for Innovation in Medical Education in Karachi.
It features virtual reality, computer models, robots, and a range of video conferencing suites to give students a hands-on education that doesn’t put anyone’s life at risk.
Actually, thanks to video conference links to remote operating theaters, the students can get a first-hand experience of a real operation without even being in the same country as the patient.
The direct, two-way video feeds allow students to watch and ask questions in real-time as senior surgeons deal with the unexpected problems that make live surgery far more complex than any theoretical guide.
Students can see the same screens that the surgeons themselves use in keyhole surgery, and watch how the various experts interact with each other throughout the operation.
And using a group video conference, which can easily accommodate several remote locations, the students’ lecturers or experts from other parts of the world can explain the procedure and field questions. You could even have multiple classes from campuses across the country view the same two-way discussion.
It also lets students in resource-poor countries like Pakistan get access to experts and techniques otherwise beyond their reach.
The Remote Operating Theater
Karachi isn’t the first place that video conferencing has been used to let remote students learn from real operations. The University Medical Center, in the Netherlands, recently became the first to broadcast a surgical operation live in 3D.
Remote students were able to share a surgeon’s-eye view of a middle ear operation, with some images transmitted directly from the instruments the surgeon himself was using.
The technology has even been used in high schools.
Earlier this year, students in the UK, the U.S., and Taiwan were allowed to participate in a video conference with operating surgeons in Canada while they performed elbow surgery.
The project was aimed at making high-tech surgeries accessible to young students, dispelling some myths about what goes on once the anesthetic kicks in, and hopefully encouraging the pursuit of medical study.
Aside from these educational uses, the use of video conferencing during surgeries opens up (pun intended) a whole range of amazing possibilities.
Virtual Surgeons in the Field
For starters, Karachi’s video conferencing suites could be used as a kind of central command for senior surgeons to assist junior colleagues in hospitals across Pakistan, or to assist first responders in the field. University of Virginia researchers are already trialing an iPad or tablet-based system that links ambulances officers with neurologists to provide remote diagnosis of suspected stroke patients.
When natural disasters strike such a mobile system could link first responders to expert surgeons. These remote experts could guide police, firemen, or FEMA workers through emergency procedures that lie outside their training.
The same process could be repeated in disaster relief camps or in small regional hospitals where under more stable conditions and with better trained medical staff, remote surgeons could supervise complex emergency surgeries. With a clear view of both patient and doctor, and with the ability to communicate in real time, it would mean patents too fragile to move to larger hospitals could still get expert care.
It’s a potentially life-saving application of all that internet and video conferencing wizardry we’ve seen evolve around us over the past 15 years.
And it should still amaze us, no matter how commonplace the internet may become.