Objective: To show the feasibility of performing surgery across transoceanic distances by using dedicated asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) telecommunication technology.
Summary background data: Technical limitations and the issue of time delay for transmission of digitized information across existing telecommunication lines had been a source of concern about the feasibility of performing a complete surgical procedure from remote distances.
Methods: To verify the feasibility and safety in humans, the authors attempted remote robot-assisted laparoscopic cholecystectomy on a 68-year-old woman with a history of abdominal pain and cholelithiasis. Surgeons were in New York and the patient in Strasbourg. Connections between the sites were done with a high-speed terrestrial network (ATM service).
Results: The operation was carried out successfully in 54 minutes without difficulty or complications. Despite a round-trip distance of more than 14,000 km, the mean time lag for transmission during the procedure was 155 ms. The surgeons perceived the procedure as safe and the overall system as perfectly reliable. The postoperative course was uneventful and the patient returned to normal activities within 2 weeks after surgery.
Conclusions: Remote robot-assisted surgery appears feasible and safe. Teletransmission of active surgical manipulations has the potential to ensure availability of surgical expertise in remote locations for difficult or rare operations, and to improve surgical training worldwide.