Hainan and Beijing doctors joined hands on the morning of July 9 to perform surgical procedures on a 75-year-old patient in Hainan, in what is reportedly the nation’s first telesurgery across sea.
The surgery was presided over by doctors from Hailand Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital, and their counterparts at Peking University First Hospital in Beijing.
Hainan, a tropic island in southern China, is some 2,636 km, or about four hours by plane, from Beijing in the country’s north.
Experts observed that 5G telecom signals are subject to disruption from tidal waves, fluctuations in temperatures and changeable weather conditions across the Qiongzhou Strait, which separates the southernmost tip with Guangdong Province.
Worldwide, the stability of 5G signals has emerged as a major technical barrier to cross-strait telesurgery.
Huang Wei, a Hainan surgeon involved in the operation, said the patient was diagnosed with stage 2 prostrate cancer, and had lymph nodes in his pelvic cavity removed successfully by a domestically made surgical robot.
The brand or model of the surgical robot wasn’t named in the original Chinese media report.
“The robot operates precisely, leaves a small incision and causes minimal bleeding,” said Huang. “The patient will recover quickly and be discharged from the hospital in a week.”
Democratization of resources
He added telesurgeries like this could promote the democratization of quality medical resources from first-tier cities in far-flung areas like Hainan, benefiting patients.
Robotics- and 5G-powered telesurgery and telemedicine as a whole have increasingly become a must in China, whose huge landmass and grossly uneven distribution of medical resources pose a serious challenge to inclusive healthcare.
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“This is the first remotely operated surgery that traverses land and sea, so (we as doctors) must ensure the success and the safety of the patient,” said Chen Cheng, a urological expert with Peking University First Hospital, who also took part in the surgery.
Technology-wise, the surgeons from Beijing and Hainan worked beforehand to set up a system to align their moves. Apart from keeping signal transmission stable, they reduced the time lapse to a tenth of a second and came close to achieving simultaneous in-surgery communication.
Milestone in tech self-reliance
Media reports point out that this latest telesurgery not just marks a new milestone in China’s endeavor to master core technologies like the da Vinci surgical platform from Intuitive Surgical.
What’s more, it also has huge implications for promoting the sharing of medical resources across provinces in a more profound manner, so as to enhance the welfare of the general populace.
“With 5G technologies, a homegrown surgical robot could be connected to a leading hospital in Beijing to break silos,” said Zheng Nansheng, deputy president of Hainan Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital. “Patients with severe diseases can receive medical attention without leaving the island.”