Even in the highly technical world of brain surgery, the success of an operation still depends largely on the experience and ability of surgeons.
But this may change dramatically with the introduction of “smart” surgical care units, in which everything from computer monitors and robotic arms to microscopes and sensors are connected via the internet to help doctors follow the right course of action.
A prototype of an advanced version of such units, the Smart Cyber Operating Theater (SCOT), was showcased Thursday at Tokyo Woman’s Medical University in Shinjuku Ward. The project was funded by the state-backed Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development (AMED).
Development of such units is expected to push forward the advent of so-called Medicine 4.0, a paradigm shift in the medical industry built on advanced information communications technology, said Yoshihiro Muragaki, a brain surgeon and professor at the university who is leading the project.
Currently designed for brain tumor surgery, SCOT helps surgeons to track a patient’s condition in real-time by displaying on a computer monitor information such as the grade of tumors and the level of nervous system damage — information for which, until recently, surgeons have had to rely on their experience and intuition.
Surgical skill is still the most important part of an operation, but the project aims to improve surgical precision and patient safety with the help of the online system.
Surgery has long employed cutting-edge technology. But in many cases, the information provided by various devices hasn’t been available in an organized format, Muragaki noted.
In smart surgery, on the other hand, information from each medical device is consolidated in real-time, reducing the burden on doctors and shortening surgical time, a project member said.
The information collected during surgery can also be shared online, allowing experienced doctors to advise their less-experienced counterparts remotely during operations.
The stored data can also be studied by medical students and inexperienced doctors so they can improve their technique. In the event of a surgical error, the data can be used to analyze mistakes and avoid them in the future.
The standard version of SCOT, which essentially displays a patient’s real-time information, has been in operation at Hiroshima University hospital since May. The “hyper” version, which has additional functions such as remote control of robotics based on the real-time information, will start operating at Tokyo Woman’s Medical University by summer 2019.
The realization of a smart surgery unit is a prized goal for Japan, a country where most of the medical instruments used in hospitals are imported. According to the state-funded New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), medical instrument imports in 2012 exceeded total exports by about ¥700 billion.
The SCOT project aims to develop high-quality, domestically made medical equipment that can compete on the global market, according to NEDO, which administered the project before being succeeded by AMED in April 2015. NEDO believes the global medical industry market, which maintains 8 percent growth, has a bright future.
“Hopefully, the surgical care unit industry (in Japan) will be established as a strong export industry like automobiles,” Muragaki said. “Our aim is to contribute to improving global health treatment.”