First Long-Distance Heart Surgery Performed Through a Robot

A surgeon in India has performed a series of procedures on patients who were 32 kilometers away from him.
Loukia Papadopoulos

A surgeon in India has performed a series of five percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) procedures on patients who were on operating tables 32 kilometers (20 miles) away from him. The event marks the first long-distance heart surgery.

The CorPath GRX robot

The operation was performed in patients who have atherosclerosis, a condition where plaque builds up in the blood vessels and restricts blood flow. In this special remote procedure, a robot called the CorPath GRX robot and controlled by the surgeon inserted a small instrument called a stent in order to open blood vessels in the heart.

The robot was developed by a company called Corindus and the paper on the procedure was published in EClinicalMedicine. The surgery is part of a novel movement called telemedicine.

Telemedicine merges the fields of robotics, mixed reality, and communications to virtually beam in medical experts to remote locations. The field could soon decentralize healthcare and help with nurse and doctor shortages.

This record-breaking procedure was undertaken last year by Dr. Tejas Patel, Chairman and Chief Interventional Cardiologist of the Apex Heart Institute in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. It saw an identical remote workstation set up in Patel's location.

The station was further connected to the robot through a high-speed internet connection. There were also cameras in the operating room to give Patel additional views of the procedure.

Remote procedures

"Remote procedures have the potential to transform how we deliver care when treating the most time-sensitive illnesses such as heart attack and stroke. The success of this study paves the way for large-scale, long-distance telerobotic platforms across the globe, and its publication in Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine demonstrates the transformative nature of telerobotics,” said in a press statement Mark Toland, President and Chief Executive Officer of Corindus Vascular Robotics.

"While remote robotic procedures are still in the early stages of development, it is clear we are on track to expand patients’ access to care, while reducing their time to treatment,” Toland concluded.

The field of telemedicine is by no means new. NASA’s Ames Research Center oversaw one of the first virtual clinics in 1999 to provide medical care for astronauts based on the International Space Station. The U.S. military also took on telemedicine in an effort to care for soldiers hurt on faraway battlefields.

Meanwhile, more recently, patients in France have been getting their medical needs met at Telehealth cabins and the Ebola crisis saw the University of Virginia employ telemedicine on the ground. Clearly this is a field that is here to stay and grow.

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