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Online Robot Surgery Gets Thumbs-Up From Surgeons

telesurgery

Imagine you’re a surgeon in a rural medical center, and a patient is rushed into your OR with a stab wound to the chest. The situation is dire enough to require an immediate operation, but the damage inflicted is extensive and complex enough that you’re not adequately trained for this particular operation. What do you do?

A recently published study in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons makes a convincing case that “telerobotic proctoring”–a surgical teleconference, with robotic assistance–will boost performance of the stranded surgeon in this scenario. For the study, the researchers used what they describe as a “robotic platform consisting of a pan-and-tilt camera with a laser pointer attached to an overhead surgical light with integrated audio.”

Eight general surgery residents without subspecialty training conducted mock operations on animal cadavers (experimenting on living humans wouldn’t have been the most ethical thing). Specialist surgeons were able to remotely guide the resident, using a laptop and mouse to steer the laser pointer. Residents who were “telementored” performed at a higher level.

“We wanted to determine if a robotic telementoring platform using real-time audio and video could impact the ability of onsite surgeons to deliver subspecialty surgical care,” said one of the study’s authors, Alexander Q. Ereso, a doctor at Wayne State University in Detroit in a press release. The answer, he and his co-authors found, was that it could, and the potential applications range from rural hospitals, as in the scenario above, or military field hospitals–where multiple subspecialties are often needed all at once.

[Image: Flickr user MC4 Army]

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