As great as modern mobile device apps may be, they hardly compare to what one man in Britain did with a handheld device last week: he performed heart surgery.
Andre Ng became the first doctor to use a remote controlled robot for the surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat: and he also felt the medical benefits.
The operation involved inserted catheters (thin wires) into blood vessels at the top of the groin and then threading them up to the patient’s heart chambers. The catheters contain electrodes to stimulate different sections of the heart, which can help find the source of the irregularity. One catheter is then used to burn the appropriate section of heart tissue.
The problem is that such surgery requires constant X-rays to track where the catheters are. As a result the surgeon needs to wear a 14 pound lead apron, which isn’t exactly ideal for an operation that can last seven hours. Even with the protection, there’s a risk of the surgeon being exposed to harmful levels of radiation over the course of a career.
In last week’s surgery, Ng used a remote-controlled robotic “arm” to carry out the operation, on a 70-year-old man. While other medical staff remained by the patient’s side, Ng was sat in an adjacent room controlling the arm.
Ng said that the arm allowed even more precise control than moving the catheters manually, and noted that being able to sit down and not wear the lead apron meant there was less danger of becoming tired and losing concentration.
He even believes that if there was a reliable enough link between the remote controller and the remote arm, it would be possible to carry out the surgery even when the surgeon and patient were in different cities.
That would only make sense, however, in medical facilities which found it easier to pay the $500,000 cost of the system than to recruit a surgeon with the relevant skills.