Researchers head north to explore telemedicine

July 21, 2009

Researchers head north to explore telemedicine

A team of researchers from McMaster University has travelled north of the Arctic Circle to study how telemedicine can be used to treat sick or injured patients in remote environments such as space.

The project, funded with a $30,000 grant from the Canadian Space Agency, is being conducted at the Haughton-Mars Research Station on Devon Island, Nunavut. Dave Musson, director of McMaster's Centre for Simulation Based Learning, is leading the research project and site team, which also includes McMaster graduate students Bosco Law and Matt Turnock.

The scientists are spending 10 days on the isolated and uninhabited Arctic island to run a series of simulated medical emergencies with a robotic patient that will be managed remotely by medical specialists at McMaster and in Toronto, New York and Scotland.

The robotic patients, which are normally used as teaching aids by the Centre for Simulation Based Learning (CSBL), look like department store mannequins, but breathe, talk, have beating hearts and respond to medical interventions.

On July 15 the team conducted its first Arctic trial with the "Sim Man", successfully working through a mock polar bear attack that included two severed limbs and a severe gash on the robotic patient's abdomen.

The researchers were ultimately able to save the simulated patient by applying tourniquets and performing life-saving interventions including CPR, defibrillation and blood transfusions. The long-distance computer and audio-visual links also worked successfully.

The McMaster group hopes to conduct two simulations a day for the duration of its time at the research station.

"We know you do a lot of telemedicine on the space station, we know that telemedicine is going to be a big deal on the moon and we know in Canada we have a huge need for telemedicine through all the northern communities that are fairly remote," Musson said in an interview with the Canadian Press.

"Our main objective for this summer is just to see that we can do it, make sure the equipment works."

Collaborators on this project include McMaster researchers Greg Peachey, Dave Williams and Sheila Whelan, as well as Gary Gray and Joan Saary from the University of Toronto/Defence Research and Development Canada.

For more information about the telemedicine research project visit the website for the CSBL at simulation.mcmaster.ca, or follow on Twitter at @csblatmac.