Nova Scotia

Smart surgical glasses link N.S. doctor to expert in Europe to guide operation

Specialized glasses worn by Dr. Richard Spence allowed him to hear and see real-time advice from another doctor in Amsterdam during a new-to-him adrenal gland removal.

Dr. Richard Spence says technology has great promise in operating rooms

Smart glasses made by the medical device company Rods&Cones were used for recent adrenal gland surgery in Halifax. (Rods and Cones)

A Nova Scotia doctor recently used smart surgery glasses in the operating room that allowed him to communicate with a specialist 5,000 kilometres away in Amsterdam to guide him through a new-to-him technique.

The technology, from the company Rods&Cones, is already being used in some European countries and the U.S. The company recently brought the technology to Halifax so Dr. Richard Spence could get guidance from Dr. Jaap Bonjer during adrenal gland surgery at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre last week.

"It felt like being scrubbed in, standing on the other side of the table of Dr. Spence and we've never met in person which is also interesting, but we speak the same language," said Bonjer.

Bonjer sat at a computer screen in his office to watch what Spence was seeing through the smart glasses. This allowed the surgeons to interact as though they were in the same room. During the surgery, Bonjer was able to take a still photo to show where an incision should be made and provide other directions.

While Spence had never done this procedure before, he was confident Bonjer — who pioneered it — could guide him through it.

"I really can see the potential and I hope others can too, that's the exciting part of it," Spence said.

The surgical team in Halifax received directions remotely from a doctor in Amsterdam using smart glasses during an adrenal gland removal procedure. (Submitted by Dr. Richard Spence)

There was a hiccup during the procedure. The operating room didn't have wifi, so the Nova Scotia team quickly had to create a hotspot on a phone in order to make sure Bonjer wouldn't be disconnected.

"You have to have another approach if that occurs.... From patient safety point of view, you need to have a plan if it doesn't go to plan," Spence said.

Dr. Jaap Bonjer guides the Halifax surgical team through a procedure remotely at his office in Amsterdam. (Submitted by Dr. Richard Spence)

Both surgeons agree this moment has created a new way to help patients — especially in rural areas.

"We can really bring together the best knowledge and provide the patients with the best care," Bonjer said.

"Moving forward, hopefully this is the inaugural start of something that I think can offer a lot of opportunity to a lot of our patients both locally but also abroad," Spence said.

Nova Scotia Health said it's hoping to secure funding to buy the surgical glasses, saying successes like Spence's show there's a need.

With files from Carolyn Ray