How Computers Could Lessen Surgery Anxiety

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

Here’s a curious activity for a Sunday afternoon: sitting slouched in front of a computer screen watching a surgeon remove a brain tumor from a patient. The surgery is live and it takes a few hours. The one at the computer doesn’t leave the room, focusing on every incision made by microsurgical instruments. It would be curious if this were a leisure activity, but not so curious if the person watching is scheduled to get the same surgery in the near future.

Hospitals around the U.S. are increasingly turning to webcasts of surgeries in an attempt to relieve the stress and anxiety of people about to undergo that operation. Once a patient sees the surgery performed successfully, it removes much of the unknown and increases his or her confidence. Some patients find these webcasts educational; they want to know more about their illness and the surgery that treats it. Others say that witnessing a surgery is calming and comforting, because they see how professional and composed the surgeon is.

Some of the hospitals leading the way into the sure-to-be-burgeoning online world of surgical webcasts include the Texas Medical Center, Memorial Hermann The Woodlands (Houston), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston), Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (Philadelphia), and Tampa General Hospital (Tampa Bay). It is likely that as the medical profession becomes increasingly technologically savvy, the number of webcasts will start to rise.

The Texas Medical Center’s first webcast happened in 2004, when nearly 2,000 people watched an operation live from their homes. But it was then recorded and archived on the hospital web site, and another 9,000 people have watched it since then. The surgeons involved have also interacted with viewers since then, answering questions and providing feedback.

For instance, during a brain tumor operation, patients submitted questions such as how is the brain monitored during surgery, what causes brain tumors, and what treatment options were there post-surgery? So, not only do people get to witness an operation, but they also get the opportunity to ask expert doctors the burning questions on their minds.

Most patients who tune in are younger and more technologically able, but anyone with a computer can do this. You can tune in to a hospital several states away — it doesn’t have to be local. If you have a pending procedure, search around on the Internet to see if a webcast exists for it.