Saskatoon physician named to Order of Canada for pioneering work in medical robotics

A professor at the University of Saskatchewan is receiving high honors for his work in the field of medicine.

dr Ivar Mendez has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. He joins a group of more than 7,600 Canadians recognized with the honour, whose contributions have enriched the lives of others and made a difference to the country.

Mendez came to Saskatoon from Halifax ten years ago, looking to use technology to improve healthcare delivery in rural and remote populations.

“Can we use state of the art telecommunications and computer technology to reach the individuals that have the least and need it the most,” Mendez told CTV News. “The individuals who are in remote locations, they have hard access to healthcare, sometimes these are life and death situations.”

Mendez has spent the last decade forming a program with robots to deliver virtual care all over the province. His team adapted the technology from the European Space Agency, who use robots to assess astronauts in space.

“They developed these robotic ultrasonography systems, and we were pioneers in this,” said Mendez. “We were the first ones to use it in North America, and we currently have in Saskatchewan the largest program in the world of robotic ultrasonography.”

This means a doctor can perform an ultrasound on a patient in La Loche, and then assess a patient in Pelican Narrows without leaving their office.

Mendez says it’s especially important for expectant mothers to be able to have an ultrasound done, but with little access to the technology in northern remote communities, they often have to travel all the way to Saskatoon for an appointment.

The technology was put to use during the COVID-19 pandemic, where over 500,000 consultations were performed using virtual technology. Mendez says it’s a sign of the future of healthcare.

“Virtual care is going to be a part of what we’re doing,” he said. “You won’t replace physicians or nurses, but it’s going to be a useful tool to be able to provide care.”

Joining four others from Saskatchewan who are receiving the Order of Canada, Mendez says it’s an honor to be recognized for his work in telemedicine and robotics.

“I feel very humbled about that designation,” said Mendez. “And of course, I felt tremendously privileged to be able to receive this honor for the work that we’ve done here in Saskatchewan, to provide healthcare to the populations that are the most under-served.”

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