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Medical students watch live operation through surgeon's eyes thanks to smart camera glasses

11 January 2021

Watching a bypass heart surgery from the surgeon's perspective: a novel experience for master's students of medicine at KU Leuven. With the help of smart camera glasses the students were able to watch the surgery from home through a livestream.


Under normal circumstances, students taking the course Cardiovascular Diseases have the opportunity to physically attend a surgical procedure in the operating theatre, but given the current situation lecturer and heart surgeon Wouter Oosterlinck (KU Leuven - University Hospitals Leuven) had to find an alternative.

Using high-tech camera glasses, so-called smart glasses, Professor Oosterlinck was able to livestream a bypass heart surgery so the students could watch the procedure from home.T he smart glasses were developed by tech company Iristick. The operational software was developed by Rods & Cones in collaboration with Medtronic. The glasses are equipped with two cameras and a microphone. This makes it possible to follow a surgery remotely but still down to the smallest detail, from the surgeon's perspective.

“Obviously we cannot capture the real atmosphere of the operating theatre via livestream, that remains a unique and magical thing, but education-wise it's a very valuable alternative,” says Professor Wouter Oosterlinck. “Students are able to see every detail: firstly, we remove a blood vessel from the chest with the help of a robot, then we use this blood vessel to bridge the narrowed coronary artery. Thanks to the technology of the smart glasses, the students can not only follow the entire procedure, they are also in contact with me and can ask specific questions.”

The students on their end are also excited, indicates Charlotte Verlinde. “We now have a much clearer picture of the theoretical knowledge we acquired in an earlier stage. It will help us retain the knowledge better as well. The technology is very suitable for this type of surgery, which takes place via tiny incisions. Even if we had been in the operating theatre, we wouldn’t have been able to follow the operation in such detail. Of course you miss the physical experience of it, but this was a fine alternative.”

Important experience

“A lot of medical students are eager to gain some clinical experience, but the corona crisis impedes us from organising certain learning activities in the hospital,” says Professor Oosterlinck. “Obviously we cannot allow their study programme to run slower in less optimal conditions. On the contrary, this crisis once again highlights the need for well-trained physicians and qualitative care. That is why it was very important to me to still offer the students an OR experience.”

“The surgery really gave us something to look forward to,” says student Sadaf Davoudi. “Sitting at home studying day in and day out makes it hard to stay focussed. An initiative such as this motivates you to keep going. This technology can also make it easier to experience different fields of medicine. For me, in any case, it has raised my interest in cardiac surgery.”

Educational added value

“We will certainly consider if and how we can use these smart glasses more broadly,” indicates Wouter Oosterlinck. “The technology can be used not only to visualise surgeries. It can also allow students to remotely attend a consultation, for instance. This also reduces the impact on patients.”

“The corona crisis is forcing us to be inventive, whereby tools such as these smart glasses can be part of the solution,” adds Dean Paul Herijgers (Faculty of Medicine). “This doesn't mean that we want to digitise every form of contact or communication, but such digital tools do provide us with new opportunities to improve our programmes.”

Source: KU Leuven

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