Telemedicine could be a boon to the developing world, particularly helping to broaden access to procedures done by specialists. In the future, we're likely to see more remote surgery—where surgeons do their stuff from somewhere other than the operating room—and certainly a lot more remote training.
That's getting non-profits like the Global Smile Foundation excited. GSF exists to help children with facial deformities like cleft palates. But the amount of the work it can get through is limited by the volunteer surgeon time it can drum up. Typically, these in-demand professionals go to some location for a week of volunteer work, do a few dozen operations, and then return to their day job. Telemedicine could allow them to get involved at other times of the year on their own schedules.
GSF, which is based in Massachusetts, recently teamed up with Vipaar, a company that makes augmented reality software. Sitting in Alabama, plastic surgeon Raj Vyas walked a trainee in El Salvador through two cleft palate closures. He viewed children's faces through a pair of Google Glasses worn by the trainee, and gave direction by placing his "hands"—or an image of them—into the same picture.
"Virtual remote surgery allows less experienced cleft surgeons in the developing world to take the critical leap from hands-on training during surgical outreach initiatives to self-sufficiency and sustainability," says Vyas, who normally works in Boston. "Using [this technology], GSF can decrease the human capital required to build needed capacity for cleft surgery in the developing world," he adds.
Drew Deaton, Vipaar's CEO, is similarly excited. "We can help health care reach more places without having the talent travel. We can reduce the travel and increase the knowledge transfer."