MASTER surgeons could soon oversee operations via satellite using technology being developed at Plymouth University.
A Pounds 25,000 pilot scheme will start early next month linking the university with two local hospitals via satellite and to experts across the region through videoconferencing. Up to 14 hospitals in the South-west will soon be involved.
It is likely to be watched closely by the Open University, which is planning to set up a medical school of its own, dispersed through district general hospitals and using virtual seminars and tutorials.
The Plymouth project, called Telematics Training for Surgeons, or Tetrasur, will allow the university to broadcast lectures to doctors studying for their Royal College of Surgeons exam via a satellite link.
Videoconferencing will bring in occasional guest lecturers, who may be in studios anywhere in the world. The digital satellite technology involved includes security measures, which are vital for medical use.
Eventually, the plan would be to set up links directly into operating theatres so that experts thousands of miles away could look in on operations and advise surgeons.
The technology could also lead to more distance diagnosis, whereby doctors ask for a second or expert opinion via video link.
Adrian Vranch, academic developments manager in Plymouth University's computing service, said that students, having seen the potential of the technology, will go wanting to use it once they move up the ladder.
He said the potential scale of the scheme made it particularly attractive to funders.