Exploring telerobotic cardiac catheter ablation in a rural community hospital: A pilot study


Advocate Heart Institute


Background: Telerobotic surgery could improve access to specialty procedures such as cardiac catheter ablation in rural and underserved regions in the United States and worldwide. Advancements in telecommunications, internet infrastructure, and surgical robotics are lowering the technical hurdles for this future healthcare delivery paradigm. Nonetheless, important questions remain regarding the safe implementation of telerobotic surgery in rural community hospital settings.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to pilot test a system and methods to explore telerobotic cardiac catheter ablation in a rural community hospital setting.

Methods: We assembled a portable preclinical telerobotic catheter ablation system from commercial-grade components using third-party vendors. We then carried out 4 telerobotic surgery simulations with an urban surgeon and a rural community hospital operating room (OR) team spanning a distance of more than 2000 miles. Two challenge scenarios were incorporated into the simulations, including loss of network connection and cardiac perforation with subsequent life-threatening tamponade physiology. An ethnographic analysis was then performed.

Results: Interviews and observations suggested that rural OR teams readily adapt to the telesurgery context. However, participant perceptions of team trust, communication, and emergency management were significantly altered by the remote location of the surgeon. In addition, most participants believed the OR team would have been better equipped for the challenges had they received formal training or had prior experience with the procedure being simulated.

Conclusion: We demonstrate the utility and feasibility of a system and methods for studying specialty telerobotic surgery in a rural hospital OR setting.

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