On August 17th 1998, the world's first Internet broadcast of real time interactive open heart surgery was performed at the Providence Seattle Medical Center. At this moment, the Virtual Operating Room was born. The broadcast was completed without any need for satellite down-linkage, the downloading of software or hardware materials or any other high technology applications. Requirements to view the surgery as a seamless video stream included a PC, a web browser, RealPlayer Plugin software, and a high speed Internet access line. Live interactive surgical broadcasts have been taken place multiple times since the initial one. Among the viewers were patients, health care providers, physicians, medical device industries and institutions, and governmental representatives.
The Virtual Operating Room directly helps patients, physicians, hospitals, medical institutions, and medical industry. The Virtual OR has allowed for patient education with regard to surgery. The patient gains an understanding of what the procedure involves technically, and of procedural options, recovery, as well as short and long term outcomes. Patients and their families are afforded the opportunity of developing a real knowledge of what they will be going through. This knowledge and understanding of the surgical procedure serves to not only educate about surgical options but is likely to result in an easier recovery.
Information technology formed the fundamental basis for the development of the Virtual OR. The technology developed and used in the Virtual OR allows for one to one or one to many real time audio-visual interaction. In order to previously view a surgical procedure in real time, the options were travel to watch a surgeon perform a new procedure, watch an edited video tape of a new procedure, or acquire a surgical atlas. These processes require a great deal of time and money without providing the same degree of interactivity. The first Virtual Operating Room performance has been followed by multiple surgeries live and subsequently archived for purposes of both teaching and education.
The exceptional aspects of these broadcasts are that they require minimal computer technology, require no hardware or software, and are interactive with live audio feedback from the Virtual Operating Room and afterwards are immediately available in archived form on the Virtual OR Web site. This is the first project of its kind world wide. The evolution of the project began in early 1998 at the moment when Dr. Robert R. Lazzara presented a talk on his vision of the future with regard to heart surgery. The mission and goals of the Virtual OR are being realized daily. The site is fully operational and the concept is a reality. The Virtual OR template at the Providence Seattle Medical Center can broadcast daily over the Internet whereas archived cases are available to the public.