Imagine watching a procedure performed live through the eyes of the surgeon. That's exactly what surgical leaders in the United States were able to do while overseeing surgeons training in Paraguay and Brazil with the help of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) doctors and Google Glass.
UCLA surgeon Dr David Chen and surgical resident Dr Justin Wagner have made it their mission to teach hernia surgery around the world and are harnessing the latest technologies to help.
''Hernia repair is the most common operation performed worldwide,'' said Chen, assistant clinical professor of general surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. ''From a global health perspective, it is as cost-effective as immunisations because it allows patients to regain function and resume work and other daily activities.''
It is also an easily teachable procedure that lends itself to the advent of this kind of technology, according to Chen, associate director of surgical education and clinical director of the Lichtenstein Amid Hernia Clinic at UCLA.
UCLA surgeon Dr. David Chen (left) and Dr. Sergio Roll of Sao Paulo, Brazil, one of the local surgeons learning to use Google Glass.
The team used Google Glass, which is worn like conventional glasses, but houses a tiny computer the size of a Scrabble tile outfitted with a touch-pad display screen and high-definition camera that can connect wirelessly to stream live.
With Chen and Wagner's help, local surgeons at a hospital in Paraguay in late May wore Google Glass while performing adult surgeries to repair a common type of hernia in which an organ or fatty tissue protrudes through a weak area of the abdominal wall in the groin. This type of hernia is commonly found in both children and adults.
Through Google Glass, the surgeries were viewed ''live'' via wireless streaming in the United States to a select group of leading surgeons who could watch and oversee the procedures.
The experts could also transmit their comments to the surgeon, who could read them on the Google Glass monitor. The surgeries are also being archived for later training purposes as well. Chen added that the educational program ensures competency and quality of the operations.
''We are one of the first to use Google Glass in teaching and training surgeons from outside a country,'' said Chen. And he says hernia surgery is just the beginning.
''Our goal is to utilise the latest technologies like Google Glass, Facebook and Twitter in connecting everyone in medicine worldwide for educational purposes that can help improve medical care in resource-poor countries,'' said Chen. ''These cost-effective applications can ultimately be used for other surgical procedures and medical training as well.''
The UCLA team also visited Brazil, where it used Google Glass during three hernia surgeries and also streamed a live debriefing session afterwards.
The team plans to train 15 surgeons from around the country in September.
These surgeons will then become trainers to teach other surgeons at several regional hospitals for underserved patients. Similar programs will be implemented in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Ecuador this fall.
These training projects are part of an educational arm of Hernia Repair for the Underserved, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing free hernia surgery to children and adults in the Western Hemisphere.
Chen, who serves on the organization's board, is spearheading these educational projects with the UCLA team to help ''train the trainers'' and increase the number of surgeons performing this procedure in underprivileged countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Chen and Wagner also work closely with UCLA's Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology (CASIT) in developing new ways to help educate doctors remotely.
They have even streamed surgical lectures to Haiti from UCLA Medical Centre, Santa Monica.
''We are developing practical applications for these technologies so that surgeons in any setting can have access to the global surgical community from within their own operating rooms,'' said Wagner. ''Even after the training is over, local surgeons can be teleproctored remotely so they will remain connected to experts worldwide.''
(Also See: US medical school integrates Google Glass into curriculum).