Transporting our future surgeons directly into the operating theatre

First global broadcast of live surgical procedure using Google Glass eyewear.

Medical Devices / Diagnostics / Surgery / Medical Students / Training

A surgeon at The Royal London Hospital has become the first in the UK to broadcast online a live surgical procedure using a pair of Google Glass eyewear.

On Thursday 22 May 2014, the procedure – to remove cancerous tissue from the liver and bowel of a seventy-eight year-old man – was watched live by 13000 surgical students around the world from 115 countries on a computer or mobile phone, who also had the opportunity to put their questions directly to the surgeon.

The students typed their questions online as they watched the procedure. Their queries then appeared on the bottom left-hand side of the Google Glass worn by the surgeon, who then answered them verbally, transmitted via the online feed.

As the questions appear to the side of the Google Glass there is no risk to the patient as it doesn’t restrict the surgeon’s view.

Performing the surgery was Mr Shafi Ahmed, Colorectal Cancer Lead at Barts Health NHS Trust and Associate Dean at Queen Mary University of London, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. He said: “I am delighted that by using Google Glass technology we are transporting our future surgeons directly into the operating theatre. Using this technology will support us to deliver high-quality and safe care now and in to the future.”

Professor Richard Trembath, Vice-Principal for Health, Queen Mary University of London, commented: “We are thrilled to be involved in the first live-streamed surgical procedure taking place in the UK. This is a pioneering piece of work, enabling us to expand our reach around the world. We believe harnessing technology in this way will eventually become a core component to the cutting-edge undergraduate and postgraduate teaching we provide our students and trainees.”

The Google Glass gives viewers a surgeon’s-eye view of the procedure from beginning to end, as well as providing insight into how an operating theatre works. Those viewing were also able to observe medical students from Queen Mary University of London as they assisted in the procedure.

In an online questionnaire, 90% of students who watched the live broadcast said that they wanted this type of learning to be part of the curriculum.

In a world-first, the procedure was broadcast to students free of charge from across Europe, Australasia and South America who participated in the live event. Previously, countries have only shared operations to students within their country.

Hemant Kocher, Consultant Liver Surgeon at Barts Health NHS Trust and Reader in Liver and Pancreas Surgery at Queen Mary University of London, removed the cancerous tissue in the patient’s liver which had spread from the bowel. Hemant added: “I am very excited about this new way of teaching. We are now able to show this specialist combined operation of liver and bowel which is only possible in a specialist hospital such as The Royal London due to our expert team working together.”

Roy Pulfer, 78, from Chadwell St Mary (near Tilbury), agreed to have his operation broadcast around the globe. Roy explained: “I’m happy that it will help educate young people. They like using technology so it’s great for them. The staff have been great to me all the way and explained every step of the operation so clearly.”

Professor Norman Williams, President of the Royal College of Surgeons said: “Today we got a glimpse of what technology can do for the future of surgical training. The unique and unparalleled view of an operation means trainee surgeons know better what to expect when they go in to the operating theatre. There is potential for trainee surgeons from around the world to watch and learn from leading surgeons in their fields of expertise.”