The surgeon behind your future life-saving surgery might not have to be in the same room as you. Heck, thanks to the burgeoning 5G revolution, they might not have to be in the same state as you. This is what was demonstrated by doctors in China earlier this month when cardiologist Huiming Guo assisted in carrying out a remote heart operation on a 41-year-old woman. While Guo was located in Guangdong General Hospital at the time, his patient was 400 kilometers away in Gaozhou People’s Hospital.
The use of 5G technology allowed Guo to observe and issue instructions during the four-hour procedure using 4K ultra-high definition live video. The 5G network used by the hospital is approximately 10 times faster than the current 4G mobile internet being used. In this scenario, it means more stable video streaming in a situation where a missed detail could, literally, make the difference between life and death.
“Advanced internet technology can save our doctors a lot of time because they don’t have to travel as much. They can use that time to save more lives,” Zhiwei Zhang, of Guangdong General Hospital, said in a press conference.
This isn’t the only operation that has been carried out remotely in China as of late. Recently, a surgery to repair a chest wall was carried out by doctors in Second People’s Hospital in Guangdong, while the patient was located 200 kilometers away in Guangdong’s Yangshan Hospital. Another operation saw neurosurgeon Zhipei Li carry out a cross-country robotic probe-based brain stimulation procedure on a Parkinson’s patient in Beijing.
Like next-generation telephones, the use of telepresence tools to let people remotely participate has been utilized in a broad range of areas. For example, telepresence robots have been used to let kids with chronic conditions attend school or even graduation ceremonies when they cannot physically be present. Combine that with 5G technology and the slew of new robotic and virtual reality-based surgical tools, and it seems that there are some very exciting implications for the future of medicine. Although it’s still preferable to have a doctor physically present for a procedure, this will allow specialists to be called on to assist even when they cannot travel to a particular hospital, potentially due to the urgency of an operation.
A hospital in Barcelona, Spain, and another in Munich, Germany, have already said that they plan to test 5G-assisted surgeries sometime before 2020.