What is Telesurgery?

Harriette Halepis

Telesurgery, also known as remote surgery, is a type of surgery that combines robotics with modern technology. When telesurgery is performed,a surgeon does not have to be in the same physical location as a patient. Instead, surgery is performed using special instruments that respond to high-speed data and management information programs.

Even in situations where telesurgery would be possible, a trained anesthesiologist is still required to administer sedation drugs to the patient.
Even in situations where telesurgery would be possible, a trained anesthesiologist is still required to administer sedation drugs to the patient.

One of the earliest, and most memorable, telesurgical operations was performed by a surgeon, Dr. Jacques Marescaux, in New York City, who was operating on a patient in Strasbourg, France. The gallbladder operation was executed with the help of a dedicated fiberoptic link. The operation was a success, and it marked a whole new era within the surgical field.

An anesthesiologist needs to be present before any surgical procedure can be performed.
An anesthesiologist needs to be present before any surgical procedure can be performed.

Presently, telesurgery is quite popular in theory, though telesurgical techniques have not been widely adopted. Still, many different operations have been conducted via telesurgery all over the globe. There are many different advantages to this type of surgery. Frequently, people who live in remote locations do not have professional surgeons readily available. Prior to telesurgery, these people were forced to travel great distances in order to benefit from a surgical procedure.

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In addition, those people seeking the help of a specialized surgeon no longer have to travel to another country in order to benefit from certain procedures. Also, various military outfits have a vested interest in telesurgery, since the advancement of remote surgery could mean less war casualties. By performing various surgical procedures on soldiers remotely, lives may be saved. This technology may also be useful when providing medical attention to people living in developing countries.

The list of telesurgical benefits is a vast one that keeps growing as the field of telesurgery progresses. It is entirely possible that this type of surgery will not require human interaction at all within the near future. Each time remote surgery is preformed, a surgeon's movements and techniques are recorded. Many hope that these recordings may, one day, be able to "teach" robots how to perform surgery without the assistance of a surgeon.

While there are many positive aspects to remote surgery, there are also a few glitches that need to be worked out. One of the main problems with remote surgery is the fact that an anesthesiologist still needs to be present before any surgical procedure can be performed. Another is the fact that a backup surgeon is usually required to assist a primary surgeon. These details are important, though scientists are continuously working on ways to make remote surgery a flawless craft.

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Discussion Comments


I can see where remote surgery could work well as long as the surgery was something that was simple and routine. Many of the surgeries that are performed on a daily basis are simple surgeries like this.

I think it will be interesting to see how this develops in the future. It will be especially interesting to see how the insurance companies respond to this.

There are many surgeries that are much more complicated and time consuming and there is no way I could see how a remote surgery could be done.

One of my husbands coworkers had to have a liver and pancreas transplant because of severe diabetes. That was a very intense and serious surgery and I can't ever see how something like that would be offered as a telesurgery.


I first heard about telesurgery on a TV show a few months ago. I was completely fascinated by this and still have a hard time comprehending how this can be done.

I do not personally know of anyone who has had this type of surgery done. When I had my gall bladder removed, it was done by a laparoscope, and the recovery time was quick.

It was comforting to know that if there were any complications the doctor and staff members were close by. Unless I was in a situation where there was no other way, I think I will stick with traditional surgery.


@SZapper - I think telesurgery may have a fighting chance because of it's possible military applications. I feel like the military is often able to get funding for things where people on the civilian side can't. So maybe the military will take this telesurgery idea and run with it.

I personally think telesurgery should be developed further. There are so many great possibilities if the technology matures.


I wonder if this technology will really be pursued seriously in the future. It seems like all anyone is concerned about in this country these days is budget cutting, especially in the healthcare field.

On the one hand, I'm sure money could be saved in the long run if surgery was performed solely by a robot. But I think the amount of funding to make that kind of equipment available in most areas would probably be prohibitive.


@NathanG - You could never persuade me to go under a robot. I’d rather wait on the surgery from a real physician, in the same room.

This technology is still too new, and I do agree that machines can break down quite easily. Personally, I believe that robots belong in automobile assembly plants not in operating rooms.

I suppose you could say I am being prejudiced against robots, and if there’s a new word to define my prejudice that doesn’t bother me a bit.


@hamje32 - I can think of one main advantage of robotic surgery over regular surgery. Your hands could remain perfectly still; by hands of course I am referring to your extended hands, the robot's arms.

I mean with regular surgery the surgeon has to hold his hands so delicately above the patient's organs and be very precise and methodical in his movements. Make one wrong incision, and you’ve got a malpractice lawsuit.

The robot can stay perfectly still however, and it could probably evaluate every movement before making it – perhaps it has an error checking mechanism, who knows. Of course this assumes that the doctor has been trained to use the equipment properly. I assume a certain amount of robotic surgery training would take place before implementing the new technology.


@SkyWhisperer - My guess is that you would be correct, and that would be the main purpose of the backup surgeon.

As with new technology there is always some hype involved, and this would be no exception. However, I do know that robotic prostate surgery has been used on quite a few patients with a high degree of success.

I remember reading an article on it once. The doctors are hooked up to these consoles, which almost look like video game devices with handle bars, and they perform the operation remotely.

I don’t think that this type of operation would be good for every kind of surgery, but for operations that are fairly routine I think that it would be more than adequate.


I hope that the backup surgeon would be as knowledgeable as the primary surgeon, if the robotic surgery is to be performed.

I can only imagine what would happen if in a worst case scenario something went haywire with the machinery, like it broke down or something. Then you would have a patient in the operating room with his organs totally exposed and no one knowing what to do.

I think that makes this procedure risky for that reason alone. However, I would guess that the backup surgeon would have the knowledge to either complete the operation or at least close the patient back up.

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