Through the use of Virtual Interactive Presence (VIP), physicians in different locations can see and interact as if they are in the same room, says Drew Deaton, chief executive officer of VIPAAR, a Birmingham company that has licensed and is marketing the technology. “Imagine being able to reach into an image of a surgery and show someone thousands of miles away how to perform a task – not just verbally tell them, but visually show them, too,” he says. “Virtual Interactive Presence makes this possible and uniquely interactive. VIP enables consulting physicians to share their expertise in remote locations so the physician’s local practice remains strong while their potential for consulting grows. It helps physicians, their practices, hospitals, and patients. With physicians able to interact virtually and more selectively choose travel dates, they have more availability for their own patients, clinics, operating rooms and their families.”
Deaton says the idea for this technology began with UAB neurosurgeon Bart Guthrie, MD. “It started with a clinical need. He, like most surgeons, receives calls and requests from physicians asking for his opinion on medical cases in his specialty. Sometimes the calls are during a surgical or emergency procedure. Frequently he would get to a point in the conversation were he would have liked to see the patient or an area of interest,” Deaton says. “Dr. Guthrie began to think about how he could share expertise where and when it was needed to best help the patient and caregivers.”
Guthrie worked with UAB’s School of Medicine and the Department of Engineering to find a solution with a small amount of research funding. The first generation of the VIP system was developed at UAB and was licensed to VIPAAR by the UAB Research Foundation. The company is housed at The Innovation Depot business incubator in Birmingham. Funds from an investment by the Central Alabama Angel Network (CAAN) in Birmingham, local venture capital fund Power Ten Medical Ventures, and other investors have commercially launched the new technology.
“VIPAAR is our first investment in a Birmingham-based company,” says CAAN Executive Director Jennifer Skjellum. “The venture also included capital from the Huntsville Angel Network and the Auburn Angel Network. Angel networks take a risk with any investment, but with this company our members could see the benefits of the technology without having to understand exactly how it works.”
Skjellum says they were interested in investing in VIPAAR because of the benefits of the remote training, which also can be applied outside the medical community. “There are applications for this technology being applied to local police departments and to the military sector. Unmanned vehicles and droids could incorporate this technology to expand our unmanned army, and it also will be important for training and monitoring in all areas of these organizations.”
For the medical community, VIP will save money while providing faster access to care and to specialists because it gives constant access. “For busy physicians, clinic and operating room time is valuable. It is expensive to have to take time away to travel to another location,” Deaton says. “VIP can bring the expertise to many places, reducing travel time for training and consultations.”
VIPAAR’s Operating Room Station transmits expertise to remote locations under the broader umbrella of augmented reality, which enhances the real world by adding digital elements. It allows a remote consultant the ability to visually demonstrate technique or even equipment as if he were in the room. He can train or consult another case thousands of miles away from a complex procedure.”
There are other benefits from this technology, Deaton says, including those that may be realized by the City of Birmingham and UAB. “There is the potential for VIP to help Birmingham grow in medical education. Not only can people come to Birmingham for education and training, but with virtual capabilities, the talented surgeons and experts in Birmingham could easily reach others without leaving their patients and families,” he says. “To be able to more easily see and learn from leading educators at UAB or elsewhere will create relationships that bring others to Birmingham to learn and grow in our city’s reputation. The relationships that it can create could be a significant benefit.”
Bart Guthrie, MD uses VIPAAR’s Operating Room Station to demonstrate a surgical procedure virtually to a remote location.