Canadian medical team pioneers anesthesia administration via video conference

Monday, September 13 2010

A medical team at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec recently administered anesthesia to a patient, which normally wouldn't be a remarkable accomplishment - except that this patient was receiving surgery in Pisa, Italy, thousands of miles away.

The team used video conferencing to complete a medical first: remote anesthesia administration. Anesthesia is one of the most difficult and risky aspects of surgery because a complex group of drugs and machines must interact perfectly to keep a person unconscious and immobilized, yet still alive. A single misstep can spell death for a patient.

Dr. Thomas Hemmerling and his team from McGill's anesthesia department treated patients undergoing thyroid gland surgery in Italy by rendering them unconscious remotely from a control room in Montreal.

"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," Hemmerling told Postmedia News. The technology could also aid military operations and developing countries, such as Rwanda, which has only 10 anesthesiologists serving the entire nation.

The process, which has been dubbed "teleanesthesia," is still in its infancy.

"This is just a proof of concept," Hemmerling said. "The second step is to standardize all the different parts of what we are doing, lighting, camera placement, to compare the performance of remote anesthesia to local anesthesia."