Doctors have performed the UK’s first medical procedure using a pair of glasses fitted with cameras that allow experts anywhere in the world to provide support remotely.
The smart glasses are equipped with multiple cameras, a torch and earpiece, and share live video, audio and still photos – which can then be viewed in real-time and annotated remotely via a laptop.
They were used for the first time during a heart operation at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge on Wednesday.
Patient John Constable, from Lincolnshire, was fitted with a state-of-the-art implant used to treat heart failure.
The 65-year-old said afterwards: “I’ve been very well looked after today and very impressed with the professionalism across the hospital.
“I’ve felt completely safe and would encourage anyone else needing to come to hospital to not delay their treatment.”
The smart glasses mean doctors and their teams can collaborate with experts, including product technicians for the heart implant’s manufacturer, and access highly specialist and technical support that may otherwise have been unavailable during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Alaina Yardley, lead cardiac physiologist at Royal Papworth Hospital, said: “The medical technology we use to treat heart failure and arrythmias is increasingly sophisticated, using complex algorithms that need specialist programming to match the patient’s symptoms.
“Traditionally we would have to wait for a technical expert to attend procedures, but Covid-19 has forced us to find new ways to perform procedures and reduce the number of people in catheter labs.”
Eilish Midlane, chief operating officer at Royal Papworth, said: “This is a fantastic innovation which supports teaching, training and remote engineering.
“In the context of a global pandemic, we are working hard to keep patients, staff and visitors to our hospital safe at all times and technology like this reduces footfall through the hospital and reduces the number of people in our catheter labs during procedures.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time.”
The Surgery Assistance smart glasses, developed by Amsterdam-based company Rods&Cones, were used during the implant of a Medtronic Cobalt XT CRTD heart implant.
The procedure involved implanting a cardiac resynchronisation therapy (CRT) device into the chest, which is connected to the heart via leads.
The device uses complex algorithms to identify irregular heartbeats and respond with small electrical impulses that correct the heart’s electrical signals and reduce patient symptoms of heart failure.
Consultant cardiologist Dr Patrick Heck said: “We are trialling this in our cardiac units, specifically for the implant of the Medtronic cardiac devices where we need technical support to programme the device to match the needs of the patient.
“However, we see this as just the start and there could be many other opportunities for use of the smart glasses, from dialling-in other doctors around the world to support on complex cases to training the next generation of cardiologists.”
Previously used in precision manufacturing, such as the aeronautical industry, the glasses have been adapted for safe use in hospitals with hands-free technology to prevent contamination and revisions to the camera technology to accommodate for the specific lighting and conditions found in a catheter lab or operating room.
Jackie Fielding, vice president of Medtronic UK & Ireland, said: “Due to Covid-19, like so many organisations, we needed to find a new way of working so that our clinical product experts could continue to provide doctors with technical support, without having to be physically in the catheter lab or operating theatres.
“Partnering with Rods&Cones and using the Surgery Assistance smart glasses, we are able to provide very best technical support to the doctors implanting our devices, while avoiding potential delays associated with needing a technical expert physically at the hospital.
“This could be the new normal in many cases, and we’re excited about exploring other possibilities with the technology.”
Bruno Dheedene, Rods&Cones co-founder and CEO, said: “We are thrilled to make this significant step with Medtronic to make remote clinical support an option for UK doctors.
“Perhaps most importantly, we’re delighted we can help healthcare professionals continue their work despite the current Covid-19 restrictions, so that more lives can be saved.”