IT was in 1896 that John Macintyre, rejoicing in the title of Hospital Electrician as well as being ear, nose and throat surgeon to Glasgow Royal Infirmary, produced the world's first medical X-rays and and went on later that year to pioneer cine-radiography with film showing the action of a frog's leg.

Doctors at Glasgow Royal have celebrated the centenary of that historic piece of medical science by pioneering the international use of a video teaching system and holding an hour-long meeting with medical colleagues on the west coast of America.

In the link-up, Professor Chris Packard made a presentation on the West of Scotland Coronary Heart Disease Prevention Project to a breakfast meeting of doctors hosted by the drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb at its headquarters in Seattle.

In the Glasgow hospital's studio Packard was able to see and speak to the remote audience over broadcast-quality ISDN telephone lines, using the Minimal Access Therapy Training Unit Scotland (MATTUS) system.

MATTUS links 10 major Scottish hospitals and royal colleges and is designed primarily for training surgeons in minimally invasive, or ``keyhole'' surgery, techniques. Nigel Clifford, chief executive of Glasgow Royal Infirmary University NHS Trust, says: ``Although our investment of #150,000 in MATTUS was primarily for surgical training purposes, the equipment does allow for other forms of video-conferencing to take place and the teleconference demonstrates the flexibility and value of the equipment.''

A hospital spokesman says: ``Keyhole surgery got a bit of a bad name because of lack of training, but it is very cost-effective, it decreases the chance of complications, and avoids the need for long stays in hospital.''

The new system allows surgeons at linked sites to watch consultants carrying out gastro-intestinal operations at the Glasgow Royal's #1m endoscopy unit, which was opened in May.

The signals include general views from steerable video cameras in the operating theatre and miniature cameras in the endoscopes, and they are mixed in the hospital's medical illustration department before being sent out along six bundled ISDN lines, which provide near-broadcast definition at minimal transmission costs.

The system also allows for incoming signals from, say, the Institute of Neurological Science at the Southern General. The use of dial-up lines provides the necessary security to ensure that the pictures transmitted are seen only by appropriate people.

The doctors at Glasgow Royal are convinced that MATTUS has the potential to improve the quality of patient care. Possible future clinical uses include the provision of specialist advice from the Royal, which also houses the West of Scotland Burns Unit, to allow doctors working at remote sites to carry out emergency procedures and avoid the risks and expense involved in having to transfer their patients.

Earlier this year a doctor seriously injured in an air crash in Shetland had to be taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary by air ambulance. It is hoped that the MATTUS system will eventually be extended to allow doctors at centres of excellence to look at the patient and obtain sufficient data so that they can be treated locally.

Meanwhile, the system may soon be called into video-conferencing action again. The hospital plans another link-up on Monday to cover the NHS Charter Mark Awards in London for Central Scotland winners. Only three persons from each trust are allowed to attend the ceremony.