Tele-Surgery Using Mobile Phones

The poor accessibility to high-quality surgical services is a major problem in under-developed communities leading to elevated rates of morbidity and mortality. Despite the availability of sufficient medical equipment (not necessary state-of-the-art technologies), failure of even simple surgical procedures occur due to the lack of well-trained healthcare workers. This human resource crisis is most significant at the level of specialist surgeons due to several factors including low salaries, poor work conditions and brain drain to developed countries. A number of approaches have been piloted to overcome such shortage in skilled human resources such as surgical camps, specialist outreach programs, and the utilization of non-physician clinicians to perform surgical procedures. The latter, known as task shifting, is a promising approach that involves the delegation of certain medical responsibilities from highly-skilled to non-specialized healthcare workers. A major success factor in surgical task shifting is the adequate supervision from an experienced surgeon after sufficient training has been provided to the non-specialized healthcare worker. One possible solution is using videoconferencing where recent research has reported the successful integration of video-teleconferencing and the Internet for real-time surgical consultation and education to students in distant locations. Nevertheless, videoconferencing equipment and high-speed communications are not common in the remote regions.

The wide spread of mobile phones in Africa and the strong cellular infrastructure that has been established in the past decade can provide the means for connecting non-specialized healthcare workers to professional surgeons. The SurgiLink project will provide a simplified form of telesurgery, also known as remote surgery. Telesurgery is based on combining robotics and videoconferencing to enable surgeons to carry out operations on patients who do not physically exist at the same location in order to significantly increase the quality of delivered surgical care to remote and underdeveloped communities. The system will utilize widely-available mobile phone features as well as commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) devices and vital signs sensors to achieve its objective while keeping costs at minimum. In addition to surgical guidance, the proposed SurgiLink system can also be used for remote patient diagnosis and monitoring as well as a delivery tool for health education and training .

















 







ECG acquisition system used in the SurgiLink system.


SurgiLink system setup user interface.


Captured patient vital sign information displayed on remote mobile

 
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