A woman in China’s remote far west has become the first person in the country’s history to have her gallbladder removed via robot-assisted remote surgery.
In February 2023, the lengthy procedure was carried out by a surgeon more than 4 500 kilometres away by way of a four-arm laparoscopic robot.
Advanced medicine is central to China’s current five-year plan, which focuses heavily on future technologies, like robotics, AI, electric vehicles and renewable energy.
Performed by Liang Xiao, a top physician at Sir Run Run Shaw Hospital in Hangzhou, the four-and-half-hour-long surgery was completed without any complications, despite the immense distance between the doctor and patient.
The introduction of 5G-enabled robot-assisted surgery technologies could be used throughout the country and will be an invaluable teaching aid for young medical students, especially those in remote regions who may not have access to live demonstrations, said Laing, while speaking to Science and Technology Daily.
Similar remote procedures have successfully been conducted in Chinese hospitals before. In 2021, an orthopaedic surgeon working from Shanghai Ninth People’s Hospital performed knee replacement surgeries for the first time.
Assisted by an incredibly fast, steady 5G connection, the surgeon remotely replaced two patients’ patella joints in the southern cities of Kunming and Huizhong respectively.
China’s 14th five-year plan, which commenced in 2021, is centred around integrating the use of robotics, nanoscience, AI and other advanced technologies into the field of medicine.
Other core industries to benefit from the application of robotics include manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, engineering, energy and logistics.
The country’s robotics industry grew at an average of 15 per cent per year between 2016 and 2020, with the sector’s operating income nearing $14.5 billion at the end of 2020, according to the South China Morning Post.
In February 2023, China’s National Health Commission, in conjunction with the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, released guidelines for the development and introduction of robotics in ten sectors.
The document encouraged hospitals to implement robot-assisted practices when conducting minimally invasive surgeries, as well as standardising operating rooms to accommodate robotic equipment.
The refitting of hospitals with robotic gear coincides with another one of China’s five-year plan ambitions: nationwide 5G roll-out and adoption.
The technology not only provides a secure and speedy connection, but the low network latency means surgeons can carry out procedures in frame-perfect real-time, something critical in fields that require extreme precision.