In a world first, doctors at McGill's Department of Anesthesia treated patients undergoing thyroid gland surgery in Italy remotely via videoconferencing from Montreal on August 30.
Dr. Thomas Hemmerling and his team used the approach, which is part of new technological advancements, known as 'Teleanesthesia'.
And the new approach involves a team of engineers, researchers and anesthesiologists who will ultimately apply the drugs intravenously which are then controlled remotely through an automated system.
The feat comes as a result of an on-going scientific collaboration between Hemmerling's team and the Italian team of Dr. Zaouter of the Department of Anesthesia of Pisa University (Chairman Prof. Giunta).
"The practice has obvious applications in countries with a significant number of people living in remote areas, like Canada, where specialists may not be available on site. It could also be used for teaching purposes, allowing the resident to perform tasks without the physical presence of a tutor, thus increasing his or her confidence level," said Hemmerling.
Four strategically placed video cameras monitored every aspect of patient care in Pisa, Italy, in real time.
Ventilation parameters (such as the patient's breathing rate), vital signs (ECG, heart rate, oxygen saturation) and live images of the surgery are monitored by each camera, with the fourth used for special purposes.
A remote computer station ('anesthesia cockpit') is required, as is a workstation that handles the audio-video link between the two centres.
"Obviously, local anesthesiologists can override the process at any time," explained Hemmerling.
Prior to the operation, an assessment of the patient's airway and medical history is also performed via video-conferencing.
The researchers are also looking at the possibility of preoperative assessment of patients at home.
"The next steps will be to confirm the results of this pilot experience with further studies," said Hemmerling.