Is Remote Robotic Surgery Practical?

Robotic SurgeryLast summer, I experienced a robot assisted radical prostatectomy. I wrote about the experience and follow-on treatment in Health Attitude. I was on the operating room table, and the surgeon was across the room, sitting at the console of the da Vinci robotic surgical system console. Another surgeon, an anesthesiologist, and nurses were at the operating tables with me. The surgeon performing the complex procedure was 20 feet away. He could have been 1,000 miles away.

I remember when the first remote surgery was performed in 2001. A surgeon in New York removed the gall bladder of a woman in Paris, France. The surgery demonstrated what is possible. No doubt there were plenty of backup procedures and a backup surgeon at the table in Paris. More recently, researchers have been studyng the reliability of performing remote robotic surgeries. A key factor the researchers have examined is network latency. This means when the surgeon at the robotic console moves an instrument, how long does it take for the actual motion to occur and how long does it take for the surgeon to get feedback from the robotic instruments in the patent? The studies concluded 200-300 milliseconds (approximately a fourth of a second) is sufficiently fast to perform safe surgeries and the Internet can easily provide the necessary speed (see Remote robotic surgery is both practical and safe | ZDNet).

The implications of the new study are significant.  I can see how some surgeons will be performing surgeries all day everyday from a robot console with patients in various locations within 1,000 miles. The remote location will need to provide a sterile operating room, nursing support, a backup surgeon, and procedures to respond to any mishap which could occur. There are many parts of America and around the world where there are not enough cases to justify having surgeons on staff to perform all  the operations needed.  I envision robotic surgical centers in many sparsely populated areas around the world. Surgeons in certain specialty areas, such as urology and gynecology, wlll be able to perform large numbers of procedures and gain great skill and positive outcomes. As robotic surgical technology continues to improve the range of procedures will expand.

Robots will play an increasing role in our lives. Read more about this in Health Attitude.


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