COVID-19 has caused a surge in telemedicine. Is telesurgery next?

medical surgery
Using 5G networks, doctors in Italy recently demonstrated telesurgery could be a valuable tool in allowing surgeons to perform telesurgery more easily, according to a new report in the Annals of Internal Medicine. (Pixabay)

An operating room isn't exactly the easiest place to follow social distancing guidelines in the age of COVID-19.

Using 5G network technology, doctors in Italy recently demonstrated telesurgery could now be a valuable—and reliable—tool in allowing surgeons to do just that, according to a report published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

While the first telesurgery involving a human patient was done in 2001, the idea of telesurgery gaining traction has been stymied, in part, by the lack of fast and reliable network connections (as well as a dearth of robotic surgery technology in many hospitals).

But with both becoming more widely available, surgeons at the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Genoa, Italy performed a feasibility demonstration of telesurgery using robotic technology and a 5G network. They perform surgery on a cadaver's vocal cords from nearly 10 miles away over a wireless 5G network.

The authors say this is the first public demonstration of remote surgery over 5G.

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The low latency and high bandwidth of 5G allowed the surgeon to operate as if he were in the operating room with the patient, authors said in the report.

"Technology and medicine are evolving rapidly, with artificial intelligence, robotic assistance, and now 5G telecommunications set to play a critical role in enabling not only robotic telesurgery but also teleassistance and telementoring," the authors said in the rpeort.

According to the authors, the demonstration showed the feasibility of remote surgery both in every day and in emergency situations, such as those involving temporary field hospitals and the need for physical distancing between surgeons and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also said this type of surgery has the potential for large-scale adoption, revolutionizing healthcare, and surgical treatments around the globe.

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