The AT&T communications company recently offered a telesurgery link to a group of doctors, present at the World Congress of Endourology in New York City, to interconnect with surgeons at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Over the high speed Global ISDN (GISDN) network installed by AT&T, the doctors in New York City performed a successful medical intervention on a patient in Baltimore, thus bridging a distance of nearly 200 miles. The conference attendees witnessed the unique live procedure, consisting in the remote manoeuvring of surgical instruments inside the patient's body.
The Endourology Conference constitutes a renowned organization attended by more than 1100 doctors throughout the world. At this year's edition, the participants were given the opportunity to experience what a real telemedical intervention looks like. Through the use of video and audio tools which were relayed over the GISDN network, the doctors in New York City were able to directly control a robotic laparoscope at Johns Hopkins. This miniature surgical device is equipped with a fibre optic camera to provide real time images from the inner body. Thanks to this viewing capacity, the conference doctors could command the hospital robot and assist the local surgeons with real time medical expertise while the intervention was being performed.
Former telesurgical experiments have been far less interactive because they limited the remote expert to the mere passive viewing of laparoscopic images, selected by the local surgeon. The powerful GISDN link however can provide high quality images with such perfect brightness that it allowed the doctors in New York City to manipulate both the camera and the surgical equipment as if both medical parties shared the same operating theatre in Baltimore. Dr. Gopal Badlani, Chairman of the World Endourology Congress, and Dr. Louis R. Kavoussi, surgeon at John Hopkins and pioneer in telesurgery, are convinced that sophisticated telemedicine switched networks will change the aspect of modern health care.
In the future, remotely located patients will benefit from the expertise of the medical specialist of their choice, even if this person is attached to a distant health care institution. The use of advanced network technologies is bound to unfold an unseen dimension of care, especially with relation to medical diagnosis and treatment programmes, according to Linda Lunga, director of GISDN services for AT&T. The GISDN network operates at speeds ranging from 64 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps throughout the United States and fifty different countries. The system even manages up to 6 Mbps via inverse multiplexing for broadcast quality audio and video.
The various transmission speeds can be mixed and matched according to the user's demands with respect to voice or ISDN video calls applications. The telesurgery link already constituted the second telemedicine experiment with the AT&T GISDN network. In May 1998, a Mount Everest expedition enjoyed permanent medical consulting expertise by means of live video sessions over the network, which interconnected the Everest climbers with a specialized team of physicians at the Yale University School of Medicine. You can read all about this first test in the VMW article Telemedicine network brings Everest expedition down to earth.