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Healthcare

Live 24: How Microsoft put robot surgeons in the limelight

The idea of a robot performing surgery on you might make you feel uneasy but like it or not robot-assisted surgery has really taken off. In fact, since 2000, about 3,000 surgical robots have performed more than two million operations worldwide. Surgeons are excited about the promise the future holds for robot-assisted surgery but up until now, sharing robotic surgical expertise with surgeons around the world would have been costly and time-consuming. But in February this year, surgeons were able to tune in to see the robots in action in a 24-hour live Worldwide Robotic Surgery Event (WRSE) aimed at the global medical community.

“I think it was a great success not only in terms of showcasing the latest advancements in robotic urological surgery but also in connecting robotic surgeons from across the world on a common global platform,” says Dr Gagan Gautam, Head of Urologic Oncology and Robotic Surgery at Medanta, India. “I am sure that if this becomes a regular event, it will increase its popularity manifold and result in a large number of surgeons benefiting from it.”

The event was streamed from 10 leading robotic surgery centres across four continents and Gautam’s centre was one of them. It was used in WRSE to transmit a robotic renal transplant procedure.

But what about the real stars of the procedures: the robots? I am told that these were the Da Vinci System from Intuitive Surgical which are already commonly used for other types of surgery. What makes them special is their ability to make tiny and precise incisions leading to faster recovery times for patients. As Gautam tells me: “For certain procedures there is now good data to say that it actually makes the procedure simpler and decreases complication rates.”

The team at Microsoft Azure Media Services and LiveArena Publisher were responsible for ensuring everything transmitted smoothly: “Whenever there is live streaming on the web you don’t have time to react so everything needs to be running smoothly,” Juanjo Carmena Ayuso, Team Lead of the Azure Media Services Incubation Team tells me over the phone. “LiveArena had been working with the hospitals to prepare the environment for them and make sure that they had all of the hardware equipment to deliver the streams on the internet. [It was streamed live in 58 countries] and more than 3000 people attended the event.”

Why is streaming better than doctors being physically being there?        

“It is very difficult to get worldwide leaders in a particular field such as robotic surgery gathered in the same room at the same time,” says Carmena Ayuso. “So the nice thing is that you have created a community where you have 10 leading robotic centres showing how they do their stuff at the same time from different places in the world without the need to travel.”

I am told that people were also able to participate by addressing questions to surgeons directly via Twitter in real-time through #wrse24. The surgeons received around 60 questions. Some were answered live while others were responded to later by the expert panel during the studio sessions.

Carmena Ayuso believes that this type of event will enable doctors to collaborate better in the future: “Doctors working in a familiar environment allows them to manage surgical procedures in comfortable rooms and to manage the robots in the right way. It makes knowledge spread faster and is very good for the education of medical professionals in different places.”

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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