Telesurgery in Humanitarian Settings – Mohana Amirtharajah, MD, Doctors Without Borders

At this year’s TFSS conference, we had the pleasure of hearing about a telesurgery project from the field work of Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). MSF is one of VSee’s most inspiring humanitarian organizations.  Whether it’s providing aid in war-torn countries, nations hit by natural disasters, or areas facing epidemics, they’re often the last ones out or the only humanitarian organization operating in that zone. 

Due to the nature of its work, MSF doctors are mostly doing survival medicine and need to be flexible about performing many different kinds of surgery all over the body in ways that are hard to predict. A problem is that most American surgeons are highly specialized and trained to work on very small areas of the body. Clearly, it’s not sustainable for MSF to pay to send highly specialized surgeons abroad to only perform a few surgeries. That’s where telesurgery can come in handy — with telesurgery, doctors in the field can get real-time direction from specialists who are located far away. So telesurgery allows MSF to serve patients as needed at scale. It also allows them to use telemedicine for remote supervision, to ensure that their doctors are providing a standard quality of care.

MSF’s requirements for telesurgery include: encryption for security and a simple, intuitive interface. Beyond that, most of the features advertised for telehealth platforms are not relevant for MSF. They don’t need EMR, X-rays, or overlays of images.

Dr. Amirtharajah shared her process of creating a working telemedicine set up using a chicken leg and about $200 dollars worth of equipment from her home base in Amsterdam and then the unexpected issues that occurred during the actual field test. She wrapped up her ps will be invest in their IT infrastructure to maximize bandwidth in their operating theatres, provide additional logistic support, and upgrade their hardware.




Mohana Amirtharajah, M.D., is the Surgery Advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières (M.S.F., or Doctors without Borders), Operational Centre Amsterdam. She received her undergraduate degree from Brown University and her medical degree from New York University. She completed her Orthopaedic Surgery residency at the University of Iowa and her Hand and Upper Extremity fellowship at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. She was then Assistant Professor at the University of California, San Francisco in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery for 5 years. She moved to Sydney, Australia in 2014 and began doing field work with M.S.F. at that time. She has been in her current position in Amsterdam since January, 2016.


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