Surgery is already a nerve-wracking experience. How about surgery performed by a robot? How about surgery performed by a robot that’s remotely controlled from thousands of miles away? Well, this could be the future.
Firms such as Intuitive Surgical, Integrated Surgical Systems Inc (ISS), and The Acrobot Company, have invented surgical robots to function as new instruments for surgeons to maneuver in their procedures. However, this isn’t as cutting edge as you think. Systems like ISS’s Robodoc and Casper have been operating for years and have successfully aided surgeons in hip replacement surgery as early as the 1980’s. The Acrobot, a computer robot that uses radiographic imaging to devise an optimal operative location not only pre-establishes the operation site, but the robotic arms actually perform the surgery based on the surgeon’s hand motions. Similarly, Intuitive Surgical’s Da Vinci robot uses real-time virtualization to create three-dimensional models for the surgeon to view while performing the operation through the robot’s precise instruments.
These robotic instruments have revolutionized how laparoscopic surgery is performed, but they may have an even larger implementation in the future of healthcare.
Intuitive Surgical’s Da Vinci is controlled via a surgeon console. The patient lies flat on an operating table below a chandelier of robotic arms while the surgeon sits feet away, index fingers and thumbs fitted through “Endo-wrist” controls and eyes pressed against a three dimensional HD screen. The Da Vinci not only provides the surgeon with a precise 360-degree range of motion, but the robot immerses the doctor within the virtual world of the patient’s body.
In the not-too-distant future, I believe the implication of virtual spaces through the internet could bring medical specialization to locations all around the globe. Radiology has already become a largely outsourced skill where doctors in the United States and radiologists in places like India and Asia are able to share MRI or CT scan images via the web. In other words, it’s like Xbox live for your doctor. He or she can connect to anyone in the world in order to save lives.
Right now robotic surgeries are performed with the surgeon and patient in the same room. What connects the doctor to the patient is a single cord and, in theory, this cord can be hundreds, even thousands, of miles longer. As mentioned in Urologic Robotic Surgery in Clinical Practice, experiments of remote tele-surgery at distances of 300 meters have already been successful at Johns Hopkins Hospital. With increasing internet bandwidth and enhanced reliability, robotic operations could hypothetically be performed through the internet. The most experienced robotic prostatectomy surgeon functioning out of the United States could operate through the internet on a patient in Indonesia. Virtual operations could bring advanced, specialized healthcare to remote locations around the globe. Imagine the humanitarian implications!
Of course, the patient wouldn’t be alone in the operating room. One caveat to tele-surgery is that a trained surgeon would still need to be on hand at the receiving end of the operation. No matter how advanced technology gets, computers malfunction. It’s for this reason that supervision would be necessary. Like it or not, this could be the future of medicine. Specialized robotic surgery is no longer something straight out of the sci-fi channel, but something we could face the next time we go under.
[Image via http://www.intuitivesurgical.com/]