In the past, knowing that your surgeon knew nothing about the procedure he was performing would have been cause for great worry. But the Yale School of Medicine is pioneering cutting-edge tele-medicine applications that are changing this.

A relatively new application of tele-medicine called tele-mentoring allows doctors and surgical students in foreign countries such as Mexico and the Dominican Republic to learn how to perform complicated procedures from leading Yale surgeons using computer connections.

“This is a modern-day miracle of surgery,” surgeon Dr. James Rosser of the Yale School of Medicine said. “We can educate surgeons in complex procedures under the guidance of educators 6,000 miles away.”

Rosser said tele-medicine and tele-mentoring applications have been routine in the education of students at the medical school for years. Rosser, who is also a three-time Smithsonian Award-recipient for technical achievement in medicine, has demonstrated tele-medicine applications in front of some of the world’s major surgical bodies.

The University’s involvement in the early ’90s centered on the delivery of radiology data as well as lectures. Rosser’s arrival at Yale heralded an increasingly aggressive use of this technology. Termed “Extreme Tele-medicine Applications,” these procedures include guiding surgeries and bringing care to remote locations such as the Amazon rain forest.

While tele-medicine has revolutionized the way medical students are educated, Rosser said he believes that the technology has also saved lives.

“Tele-medicine is proving to be very effective in safeguarding patients during advanced procedures,” Rosser said.

Rosser said he has guided procedures such as anti-heartburn operations, liver cyst removal and colon surgeries.

In addition to supporting national hospitals in its educational programs, Yale is involved in the implementation of tele-medicine networks to support surgical students in regions like Latin America where education in advanced procedures is not readily available, Rosser said.

“We have actually educated surgeons with no prior experience in advanced procedures completely in cyberspace,” Rosser said. “The ultimate goal is to expand this technology to more remote locations in the Southern Hemisphere.”

But bringing such new technology into mainstream use is not without some challenges. The limitations of the present technology as well as the regulations governing the use of such technology have posed problems.

“We need to have the government involved in order to formulate the rules of engagement that tele-medicine will act under,” Rosser said. “We are frustrated by the current lack of a universal medical license which will allow us to conduct projects across state lines.”

Despite these setbacks, Rosser said he believed that such a strategy will be formulated within the next 10 years.

“I believe that the government will formulate a national policy and agenda for tele-medicine technology simply out of necessity,” Rosser said. “The government will see that such technology has outstanding possibilities for the future.”

Rosser also said that tele-medicine technology will lead to drastic changes in the way health care is administered.

“We must change from our traditionally defensive health care delivery strategy to an offensive strategy,” Rosser said. “Tele-medicine technology will allow health care to come to the people.”