Is Telesurgery a New Reality? Our Experience with Laparoscopic and Percutaneous Procedures
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BACKGROUND: Minimally invasive surgery offers many advantages, but its correct practice is associated with a steep learning curve. Telesurgery allows a surgeon at a remote site to guide and teach surgeons at a primary site by utilizing robotic devices, telecommunications, and video technology, thereby reducing complications. PATIENTS AND METHODS: From September 1998 to July 2000, 17 procedures were telementored between two sites 9230 km apart: a primary operating room at the Policlinico Casilino "Tor Vergata" University of Rome and a remote site at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. Of these procedures, 14 were laparoscopic cases: 8 spermatic vein ligations, 2 retroperitoneal renal biopsies, 3 simple nephrectomies, and 1 pyeloplasty. Three procedures were carried out to obtain percutaneous renal access. All procedures were performed with the help of two robots: the first robot, AESOP, for the orientation of the laparoscope, and the second one, PAKY, to perform the percutaneous renal access. In addition to the robotic device, the system provided four ISDN lines, a PC with dedicated software to manage the connection, audio and video connections, an external video camera with a panoramic view of the operating room, and remote control of the electrocautery and the Telestrator. RESULTS: All the procedures were accomplished with an uneventful postoperative course. Ten operative cases were telementored successfully. In five cases, it was not possible to establish a connection to the remote site, and two procedures were converted to open surgery because of intraoperative complications. The time delay of the image transmission was <1 second. CONCLUSION: This preliminary experience has demonstrated the feasibility of international telementoring. It could provide education to surgeons and decrease the likelihood of complications attributable to inexperience with new techniques.
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