Complex Made Simple

It began with remote surgery, but remote collaboration will have the greatest patient impact

The advent of remote surgery and its growing potential is leading the world to a new promising prospect with a multitude of applications: remote collaboration.

Remote surgery has revolved around finding ways of treating patients when they are in locations difficult to access, like space, or when the infrastructure of a country is poor What started off as a concept aimed at providing access to safe surgery to those in developing countries is evolving into something even more powerful Remote collaboration, while still providing surgery to those in difficult to reach places, also provides a sustainable model for the future

The concept of remote surgery has been around since the 1970s when scientists at NASA first started to tackle the issue of performing operations on sick or injured astronauts. The use of robots to carry out surgery at a distance then became mainstream, and in recent years technologies like augmented reality (AR) have revolutionised that concept, making it more accessible with its high agility tools, easy deployment and low cost.

We have clearly established that we can now perform surgery on a patient over distances, that through AR-assisted technology two surgeons or surgical teams using everyday devices like iPads or laptops can collaborate on a procedure remotely, allowing a specialist to guide a colleague through an operation. 

Many of these types of cases have been undertaken by Canadian surgeon Mehran Anvari, who performs remote robotic surgery regularly on patients with a distance of up to 400km between him and patients. One case had a surgeon in Lebanon lending his expertise and providing guidance to a life-changing operation over 300km away in Gaza. It is the collaborative nature of this type of technology that will have the most impact on patients.

What patient wouldn’t want to be treated by a surgeon who has had access to the latest, cutting edge techniques and been able to continuously review these types of cases, and their own, with peers?

Remote surgery has revolved around finding ways of treating patients when they are in locations difficult to access, like space, or when the infrastructure of a country is poor. What started off as a concept aimed at providing access to safe surgery to those in developing countries is evolving into something even more powerful – something which has a much greater impact when enabled everywhere, benefitting all patients and doctors themselves. Remote collaboration, while still providing surgery to those in difficult to reach places, also provides a sustainable model for the future. 

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Note: Concept image. Not a literal representation of remote surgery. 

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By enabling more collaboration between surgical teams working in different locations, through technology, surgeons can upskill themselves, mentor others and create a lasting prototype whereby patients are in a unique position of being able to tap into specialist expertise wherever they live. What patient wouldn’t want to be treated by a surgeon who has had access to the latest, cutting edge techniques and been able to continuously review these types of cases, and their own, with peers? This approach breeds a culture of continuous learning, quality of treatment and patient safety. For the surgeon, having these valuable connections with colleagues, all from a laptop or tablet at their office desk or kitchen table without time constraints or costly travel, lifts barriers to learning. We become masters of our own development. 

Take The International Society for Hip Arthroscopy (ISHA), for example. It is working with remote collaboration platform Proximie to harness its augmented reality capabilities to scale surgical expertise for the benefit of patient care. It involves members joining together over the platform to interact in live surgeries with colleagues across the world whom they may not otherwise had access to. These live cases are then all recorded on the platform for future review.

For the surgeon, having these valuable connections with colleagues, all from a laptop or tablet at their office desk or kitchen table without time constraints or costly travel, lifts barriers to learning. We become masters of our own development.

ISHA board member and Consultant orthopaedic hip and knee surgeon at the Circle Reading Hospital, UK, Tony Andrade, said: “Proximie’s ability to connect surgeons from across the world in real time, together with engaging augmented reality video content means it can help us deliver our mission of promoting and improving patient care through collaboration and education for our members.

Similarly, on a smaller scale, King’s College in London has used Proximie to connect clinical experts and trainees from several of its sites so it could enable a multidisciplinary approach to live surgery without any of the team having to travel. Radiologists, oncologists and trainee surgeons are able to collaborate to deliver a success outcome.

Professor Prokar Dasgupta, Professor of Robotic Surgery and Urological Innovation at King’s College, said: “Proximie is a game-changer. It means that irrespective of the patient’s location, they get the best expertise available even in a place where that’s not always possible. Ultimately this means that procedures are safer than ever and that patients will receive the best care possible.”

What these examples show quite clearly is that by bringing people together and giving them a rich learning experience with a technology like AR enables us to stop working in isolation even if we are not close to one another. This collaborative effort to bring about the best care has a direct and positive impact on the patient.

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