Cayman's cutting-edge medical technology: Far beyond scalpels

A pair of stories that appeared in yesterday’s Caymanian Compass gave us cause to muse on the future possibilities for the Cayman Islands in a world of rapidly accelerating technologies.

The articles addressed medical innovation and two distinct ways of leveraging it — to import outside expertise for the benefit of local residents, and to pilot-test new strategies for international export.

While those are also hallmarks of Health City Cayman Islands, the articles we’re talking are not associated with the medical tourism hospital in East End, which incidentally began admitting its first patients this month.

The lack of official connection with the Shetty hospital makes the stories even more remarkable, and even more promising for the development of a country-wide culture of technological progress embraced throughout all industries, and not necessarily tethered to a handful of hegemonic first-movers.

In one instance, the Health Services Authority’s new “telemedical remote presence robot” (think of it as a surrogate set of eyes and ears for a physician located overseas) was used for the first time earlier this month to diagnose a local patient, ophthalmologist Krishna Mani, who had suffered a stroke.

The robot allowed a specialist in Tampa, Florida, to assess Dr. Mani’s condition “within minutes” and give treatment directions to local hospital staff — eliminating the need to bundle Dr. Mani onto an aircraft and fly him off-island, a potential waste of hours in a situation where every second counts when treating a patient’s brain function.

The robot, nicknamed “RP Sally,” is a donation from the Seafarers Association and is one of only two telemedical robots in the Caribbean. (The Shetty hospital will also rely heavily on communications technology to facilitate consultation with doctors in India.)

In addition to saving lives, the robot can save the country money. Last year, government and CINICO spent tens of millions of dollars for overseas medical treatment. In Dr. Mani’s case alone, the use of the robot saved an estimated $70,000.

“I think this is the best thing that has happened to Cayman,” a grateful Dr. Mani said while convalescing at the Cayman Islands Hospital.

Also yesterday, the newspaper ran a story on a Cayman company called Perseus, which was established here last year and specializes in providing pioneering treatment of cancerous tumors.

The company’s chief medical officer, oncologist George Peoples, has had a distinguished career in the U.S. Army, helping to invent cancer vaccines at prestigious military medical centers.

In the U.S., Perseus has treated 25 patients with advanced melanoma (a deadly type of skin cancer), with significant success. In Cayman, the company has treated eight people already. Dr. Peoples said about 10 to 20 patients are needed before the company can launch a large trial in the U.S., with the aim of securing approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Generous subsidies for treatment are being provided to Caymanians who have any solid tumor disease.

We applaud the Seafarers Association, Health Services Authority and Perseus company (and its local participating physician Dr. Sook Yin) for bringing new technology to Cayman that can benefit residents in the short term, and, perhaps in the longer term, contribute to the islands’ growing reputation for a technology-driven culture and economy.