While peering directly behind surgeons practicing an advanced laparoscopic procedure in Strasbourg, France, an Emory surgeon recently conducted one of the world's first telerobotic surgical training sessions -- from his office in Atlanta.
C. Daniel Smith, MD, W. Dean Warren professor of surgery and Chief of the Division of General and GI Surgery in the Emory University School of Medicine, used a mobile robot located in the largest surgery training center in Europe to mentor and train two surgeons from Venezuela.
According to Dr. Smith, the ability to teach surgeons using telerobotics now opens the door to training other physicians around the world or even in remote areas of the United States -- without having to be physically present in the operating room.
"This has incredible implications for teaching surgeons, especially if we can have experts remain home in their own hospitals instead of traveling, while still able to provide training resources in remote locations," Dr. Smith explains. "We are developing similar programs in Shanghai and Hong Kong."
Smith uses an RP (Remote Presence)-6 robot, developed by InTouch Health, Inc., which can be remotely controlled by physicians via standard high-speed Internet connections. Through proprietary communications and the robot's mobile platform, the controlling physician can be virtually projected to other locations to interact with patients and caregivers, while participating in the treatment process, from reviewing X-rays, medical records and lab reports, to discussing that information with doctors and patients -- all in real time.
Caregivers, surgeons and patients can even speak "face-to-face" with the remote physician as the controlling doctor's live, real-time image appears on a flat-panel monitor where the robot's "head" would be. This technology also allows the controller to remotely coach and train staff and monitor healthcare services, generally leveraging the time and expertise of healthcare professionals, while improving the efficiency and effectiveness of care delivery.
Emory faculty and researchers have been on the forefront of virtual training for the past eight years and the Emory Simulation, Training and Robotics Center (E-STAR) is the focal point of all simulation and robotics work at Emory.
Dr. Smith, who directs the E-STAR program, and his team are currently developing, validating and applying simulation-based educational tools, devices, curricula and robotics for use in medical education, training and patient care. "Robotics and simulation technology is currently altering how surgeons develop skills and treat patients," Dr. Smith says.
"Simulation is a complementary alternative to the standard methods used to teach surgical procedures, such as practicing on animal models or cadavers, observing or assisting a senior surgeon, and performing procedures under the supervision of an attending surgeon. And the use of robotics in the operating room -- from the performance of delicate procedures to surgeons robotically assisting one another remotely via Internet connections -- will allow physicians to better transfer knowledge and the delivery of care around the globe," says Dr. Smith.