The technology developed by Intuitive – the makers of the da Vinci robots used by surgeons at the Newcastle Hospitals – allows surgeon mentors to virtually enter the operating theatre during robotic surgery from anywhere in the world through a secure digital platform.
This new tech means clinicians can work more collaboratively and support each other, particularly during more complex cases, without the need to travel – an important development with travel restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At no time can the remote mentor take control of the da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery system.
Mr Peter Coyne, consultant colorectal surgeon at the Royal Victoria Infirmary specialises in robotic cancer surgery including advanced and recurrent tumours. He piloted the system while performing a specialist operation called an anterior resection for a patient with bowel cancer.
He said: “This new technology offers the opportunity to link up with expert surgeons around the globe for complex cases or to enhance our training of surgeons. It is easy to use and facilitates intra-operative decision making.”
The technology enables the real-time exchange of audio and video between the surgeons in the operating theatre and the remote mentoring surgeon.
Mentoring the procedure in real time
During the procedure, a tablet is docked into the vision cart of the robot, allowing the robot’s endoscopic camera view to stream to the tablet so the remote mentor sees the procedure in real time.
In this pioneering trial, the remote mentor was Charles Evans, head of gastrointestinal surgery at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust.
He said: “I was really enthusiastic to collaborate with my peers in Newcastle as they piloted this new technology.
“They’re a warm and welcoming team which I very much felt a part of – I didn’t feel like there was a screen between us – it was exciting to see the procedure happening live.
“Robotic surgeon-to-surgeon mentoring allows us to bolster patient safety by providing an additional layer of support for surgeons as we guide and advise each other through often very complex operations, something which we can now do without the need to travel.”
Although this system is not designed to replace in-person support and mentoring, which is fundamental to the safe and effective use of robotic technology, it is hoped that the technology will provide an additional layer of training for surgeons during procedures.
Newcastle Hospitals offers one of the most comprehensive robotic surgery programmes in the UK, and is the only hospital trust providing robotic surgery in eight specialties.
The programme has improved quality and clinical outcomes as well as increasing patient choice.