WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
There are many areas in the world that have a shortage of skilled surgeons, but tele-robotic operations like this one could solve that.
A little while ago I reported several developments in the robotic surgery field, from the development of a neurosurgical robot that’s fifty times faster than human neurosurgeons in trials, and an autonomous robot that travels within the human body fixing hearts, through to a dentist robot that implanted two teeth into a patient, and the development of Elon Musk’s Neuralink robot that will soon be autonomously implanting devices into people’s brains to help them connect them to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the cloud. Oh, and swarms of surgical nanobots.
Now though hot on the heels of a surgeon in China who used a robot surgical system and a 5G connection to operate on an animal 30 miles away, a surgeon in India has successfully performed the first remote heart surgery on a human patient who was lying on an operating table 20 miles away. Both of these trials, coupled with other developments in AI, machine vision, robotics and connectivity, mean that one day surgeons will inevitably break free of today’s hospital model, where they, patients and theaters are all centralised in one place, and be able to operate from anywhere in the world on patients anywhere in the world – whether it’s disaster zones or on patients in countries where there are shortages of qualified surgeons.
During the procedure, the CorPath GRX robot, developed by a company called Corindus, a Siemens company, inserted a small instrument called a stent in order to open blood vessels in the heart, according to a paper published in EClinicalMedicine. The operation, called percutaneous coronary intervention, is often performed in patients who have a condition called atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up in the blood vessels, restricting blood flow.
The long-distance procedure was performed by Dr. Tejas Patel of the Apex Heart Institute in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.
“I am honored to have been a part of this medical milestone,” said Patel. “The application of tele-robotics for remote treatment has the potential to impact a significant number of lives by providing access to specialized care that may not otherwise be possible.”
Previous procedures using the CorPath GRX robot have included a Robotic Control Workstation, which is typically situated a few feet from the operating table. The workstation includes multiple joysticks that the operating surgeon uses to control the robot, and it has screens that show what different components of the robot are doing and seeing.
For this procedure, the team set up an identical remote workstation that was connected to the robot through a high-speed internet connection. The researchers also set up cameras in the operating room that fed additional footage of the procedure to Dr. Patel, and a pair of surgeons stationed inside the operating room supervised the procedure.
NASA’s Ames Research Center was an early investor in telemedicine technology and developed one of the first virtual clinics in 1999 to assist the medical needs of astronauts based on the International Space Station, and the US military are also championing long-distance, robot-assisted surgeries with their own trials in an effort to provide better care to soldiers wounded on distant battlefields.
So called telemedicine has long been heralded as an inexpensive alternative to traditional forms of medicine, and has gained popularity in recent decades with advances like the above only helping to add fuel to the proverbial fire. For example, in 2017 76 percent of US hospitals had implemented some form of remote medicine, according to the American Hospital Association.
Over the past decade doctors have become more accustomed to using robots in surgeries. The first robot-assisted surgery was performed in 1985, when neurosurgeons used robotic technology to provide more precise brain biopsies. The da Vinci robotic surgical system performed 570,000 medical procedures in 2014, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.