Physicians in Hamilton and North Bay, ON. collaborated to perform two successful laparoscopic fundoplication surgeries using remotely controlled robotic arms, making them the world's first hospital-to-hospital telerobotic-assisted surgeries. Though still in early stages of development, the success of these telesurgeries shows promise for a procedure that could bring specialized surgical techniques to rural areas in which specialists are not available.
Using voice commands and his hands to operate the robotic arm 300km away, Dr. Mehran Anvari from St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton performed the microsurgery while Dr. Craig McKinley in North Bay assisted on-site. Dr. Anvari was impressed at the ease with which he was able to direct the remotely operated surgical instruments, and was pleased with the duration of the operations. With network backup systems in place, the one in 10,000 chance of a network failure becomes even less of a risk. Both patients are reported to be recovering well.
Despite the Canadian physicians' optimism, telesurgery has not yet been accepted as a commercially viable means of surgery in the U.S., where doctors are considerably more skeptical of its benefits. They claim it is still safer, more practical and less expensive to fly the surgeon into the rural area to perform the surgery. Obviously still in a nascent stage, telesurgery may have potential as a tool that can bring surgical expertise into underserved, remote rural communities in Canada.
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