A surgeon in India has successfully performed the first remote heart surgery on a patient who was lying on an operating table 20 miles away.
During the procedure, the CorPath GRX robot—developed by a company called Corindus—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," Patel told ZDNet. "The application of telerobotics 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. The U.S. military also championed early long-distance, robot-assisted medical technology in an effort to provide better care to soldiers wounded on distant battlefields.
Telemedicine has largely been heralded as an inexpensive alternative to traditional forms of medicine, and has gained popularity in recent decades. In 2017, 76 percent of U.S. hospitals had implemented some form of remote medicine, according to the American Hospital Association.
In the past several decades, doctors have begun to rely on robots more. 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.
Correction: An original version of the headline stated that the robot performed the surgery. We have clarified the headline to say that the robot assisted with the surgery. We regret the error.