Background: With the rapid and marked progress in gastrointestinal endoscopy, the education of doctors in many new diagnostic and therapeutic procedures is of increasing importance. Telecommunications (telemedicine) is very useful and cost-effective for doctors' continuing exposure to advanced skills, including those needed for hepato-pancreato-biliary diseases. Nevertheless, telemedicine in endoscopy has not yet gained much popularity. We have successfully established a new system which solves the problems of conventional ones, namely poor streaming images and the need for special expensive teleconferencing equipment. Methods: The digital video transport system, free software that transforms digital video signals directly into Internet Protocol without any analog conversion, was installed on a personal computer using a network with as much as 30 Mbps per channel, thereby providing more than 200 times greater information volume than the conventional system. Kyushu University Hospital in Japan was linked internationally to worldwide academic networks, using security software to protect patients' privacy. Results: Of the 188 telecommunications link-ups involving 108 institutions in 23 countries performed between February 2003 and August 2009, 55 events were endoscopy-related, 19 were live demonstrations, and 36 were gastrointestinal teleconferences with interactive discussions. The frame rate of the transmitted pictures was 30/s, thus preserving smooth high-quality streaming. Conclusions: This paper documents the first time that an advanced tele-endoscopy system has been established over such a wide area using academic high-volume networks, funded by the various governments, and which is now available all over the world. The benefits of a network dedicated to research and education have barely been recognized in the medical community. We believe our cutting-edge system will be a milestone in endoscopy and will improve the quality of gastrointestinal education, especially with respect to endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) and endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS) procedures.
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