You can read about neurosurgical techniques, but to really learn it, experts say you have to see a brain surgeon in action. While the capacity for live observation in a surgical suite is limited, technology has now advanced to the point where a webcast is almost as good as being there, says Aaron Cohen-Gadol, MD, a neurosurgeon with the Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine, Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

He had been trying to locate a webcasting platform that would allow him to broadcast brain surgery in real time, but had been having a hard time finding the high-quality of live-streaming video he needed. “You work with a very high-definition microscope, so you need to work with a very high-definition system,” says Cohen-Gadol. Earlier this year he found the omNovia platform, which he says provides HDTV-quality video that allows him to create the forum he had envisioned, where physicians can watch neurosurgery and have their questions answered in real time. Because the system can integrate fully with microsurgical cameras, it allows remote participants to see exactly what the surgeon sees just as if they were standing next to the surgeon watching through his or her microscope—it’s not like having a camera in the operating room, he says.

The three-month-old series of webcast to date has been broadcast by invitation-only to neurosurgeons from other academic centers, and the plan is to be able to provide continuing medical education credit for participation in the webcasts. He also is considering providing an edited version of the surgeries for patients to view. Participants pay a fee to watch the webcasts, part of which goes back to omNovia to pay for use of its system.

Cohen-Gadol says, “I don’t doubt that this is the future of neurosurgical education,” especially when today’s physicians are facing smaller travel budgets along with a growing need for continuing medical education. He envisions a virtual conference center that has different rooms dedicated to different techniques, each of which would allow learners to participate in live and edited surgeries, hear lectures from experts, and discuss the techniques, all from behind their own computers. “Instead of paying $600 to fly somewhere and take time off and pay for your hotel, you’ll be in front of your computer in a virtual convention center,” says Cohen-Gadol.