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UCLA surgeons teach techniques via Google Glass

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On June 12, UCLA Health System reported another advancement in the teaching of surgical skills around the globe. With the use of Google Glass, instructors are able to view a procedure “live” through the eyes of the surgeon; thus, the teaching experience is comparable to having a live surgeon standing behind the surgeon as he operates. The basis of the technology is Google Glass, which is worn like conventional glasses; however, contains a tiny computer the size of a Scrabble tile outfitted with a touch-pad, display screen, and high-definition camera, which can connect wirelessly for live streaming.

The technology was used by UCLA surgeon Dr. David Chen and surgical resident Dr. Justin Wagner when they supervised surgeons performing hernia repairs in Paraguay and Brazil. “Hernia repair is the most common operation performed worldwide,” explained Dr. Chen, assistant clinical professor of general surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He added, “From a global health perspective, it is as cost-effective as immunizations because it allows patients to regain function and resume work and other daily activities.” He added that the procedure is easy to teach; thus, it lends itself to the introduction of this kind of technology.

In late May, with the assistance of Drs. Chen and Wagner, local surgeons at a hospital in Paraguay wore Google Glass while performing adult surgeries to repair a common type of hernia in both children and adults; with this type of defect, an organ or fatty tissue protrudes through a weak area of the abdominal wall in the groin. With the use of Google Glass, the surgeries were viewed “live” via wireless streaming in the US to a select group of skilled surgeons who could watch and oversee the procedures. In addition, the observing surgeons could transmit their comments to the operating surgeon, who could read them on the Google Glass monitor.

The surgical procedures are being archived for later training purposes as well. Dr. Chen noted that the educational program ensures competency and quality of the operations. He explained, “We are one of the first to use Google Glass in teaching and training surgeons from outside a country.” He added that hernia surgery is just the beginning. He said, “Our goal is to utilize 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. These cost-effective applications can ultimately be used for other surgical procedures and medical training as well.”

The UCLA surgical team also visited Brazil, where they used Google Glass during three hernia repairs and streamed a “live” debriefing session after the procedures. In September, the UCLA team plans to train 15 surgeons from around the nation in September. These surgeons will then become trainers to teach other surgeons at several regional hospitals for underserved patients. This fall, similar programs will be implemented in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Ecuador.

UCLA notes that these training programs represent a component of an educational arm of Hernia Repair for the Underserved, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free hernia surgery to children and adults in the Western Hemisphere. Dr. Chen, who serves on the organization’s board, is directing these educational projects with the UCLA team to help “train the trainers” and increase the number of surgeons performing this surgery in underprivileged countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Drs. Chen and Wagner work in conjunction with UCLA’s Center for Advanced Surgical and Interventional Technology (CASIT) for the development of new ways to help educate doctors remotely. For example, the have even streamed surgical lectures to Haiti from UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica. Dr. Wagner explained, “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. Even after the training is over, local surgeons can be teleproctored remotely so they will remain connected to experts worldwide.”

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