Health, Fitness & Food

Open heart surgery is carried out on a baby at the Narayana Hrudayalaya Institute of Cardiac Sciences in Bangalore, India, June 30, 2005.

Michael Crabtree | Getty Images News | Getty Images

A robot helped doctors carry out the world’s first remote heart surgery in India – a “milestone” development, according to a study published in medical journal The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine.

From 20 miles away, the surgeon controlled a robotic arm to perform heart surgery on five patients, wrote Apex Heart Institute’s cardiologists, Tejas Patel and Sanjay Shah, with Samir Pancholy, director at The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education Cardiology Fellowship.

The five patients had coronary artery disease, a condition wherein blood vessels are damaged and the heart can’t receive enough blood supply. The doctor placed a small structure in each patient’s blood vessel to open it up, which allowed blood to flow through, according to the report.

The authors noted that this operation was “successful in all aspects” for the five patients and that none of them experienced procedural complications.

While surgeons have used robots in operations since 2001, the success of these surgeries could be a step forward for the treatment of heart disease. Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization.

Greater access to medical services

Remote operations would benefit patients in less developed countries or rural areas who currently don’t have access to heart disease medical services, the report stated. The authors noted that the technology could be deployed “as a front-line service in regions where such expertise is not available,” if paired with “improvements in network connectivity.”

Progress in 5G could enable further adoption of robotics-assisted remote surgery, the chief investment officer of financial company Contego Capital Group, Brian Gahsman, told CNBC in an email.

“5G will allow each surgical movement made by the surgeons input in the base location to be replicated in milliseconds,” said Gahsman, who is also the portfolio manager of his firm’s robotic and automation fund.

He noted, however, adopting this technology is a challenge, particularly in developing countries. Gahsman explained that in countries without a robust health care system, the costs could burden patients who have to pay out of pocket.

Still, remotely-controlled surgery technology has its upsides for health care practitioners.

Patients, doctors and medical technicians working in catheterization laboratories, where heart conditions are examined and treated, are exposed to high levels of radiation. Repeated exposure could have side effects on their health.

But with remotely-controlled robots, the practitioners can be stationed further from the laboratory, reducing their exposure, said Gahsman.

It also means bone or muscle injuries resulting from practitioners’ use of heavy protective gear could be prevented, according to a separate study in the international journal Catheterization and Cardiovascular Interventions.

So “humanitarian reasons” like reducing radiation exposure and possible injury for these practitioners could drive greater adoption of the technology, Gahsman explained.

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