A device called "doctor in a box" has the potential to revolutionize medical care in Saskatchewan, according to the University of Saskatchewan's head of surgery Dr. Ivar Mendez.

Using an ordinary cell phone connection, he can establish a high resolution two-way video link with patients and nurses, or paramedics, hundreds, or even thousands of kilometres away.

The doctor can view everything from heart monitors to wounds and make treatment decisions from his office in Saskatoon. With peripheral attachments, tests can be performed outside of hospitals and clinics.

"Here for example we can do an electrocardiogram in the home of a patient who has chest pain, or can do an ultrasound of the chest or the abdomen in a person that has had a car accident," he said, adding that he can even do blood work using special sensors.

Pilot project set up in northern Saskatchewan

'This device will actually be able to save lives.' - Dr. Ivar Mendez

A pilot site is up and running in Ile-a-la-Crosse, with another planned for Pelican Narrows.

At the health centre in Ile-a-la-Crosse, the video device is mounted on a robot that Mendez can control from his laptop computer. He can direct the movement of the robot around the building, so that he can see anything he wants to see. Mendez can even zoom in for a close-up look. 

He said it's the next best thing to being there.

"This device will actually be able to save lives," Mendez said.

In use on East Coast

He started pursuing this idea while working in Halifax. He enlisted technology companies to develop the device and developed the protocols for its use.

The device has already been used in the remote Labrador community of Nain, where a boy attempted suicide by throwing himself in a lake.  He was taken to the local nursing station.

"The device was activated by the physicians in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which is about two hours away from Nain," Mendez said. "And they were able to run a whole resuscitation code and save this kid's life."

He noted Saskatchewan spends $50 million a year on medical transport, money that could be saved by remote presence technologies, such as the "doctor in a box."

Mendez hopes to see it in use across the province in the years ahead.