Professor Ling Zhipei, chief physician at the Neurosurgery Department of People's Liberation Army General Hospital performing a remote surgery via 5G network in Beijing, March 25, 2019. (Photo: CGTN)
The days of doctors performing surgeries from far outside the operating room are closer than you might think. A hospital in China recently conducted the first long distance surgery on a human patient via a 5G network. This burgeoning new trend continued Monday, with a head surgery in Beijing.
Doctor Ling Zhipei is on his way to perform a surgery, but not in the operating room. While his team gets the patient ready, Ling's preparation is to set up a laptop and 5G network, with the help of China Mobile and Huawei. The procedure? The implantation of a deep brain stimulation device for a patient suffering from Parkinson's disease. Ling's Partner, Xu Xin says there's no room for mistakes.
"The key to the surgery is precision. We're going to detect and then insert a Deep-Brain stimulation device into an area of one third the size of a soybean," says Xu Xin, associate chief physician at the Neurosurgery Department of People's Liberation Army General Hospital.
Doctor Ling Zhipei was China's first surgeon to do such DBS implanting for Parkinson's disease patients back in 1998. With the help of WiFi, he doesn't need to perform alongside the patient anymore. He can control the instrument by reading signals on the laptop, or by giving real-time instructions to surgeons.
The patient's feedback is obviously seen.
"Can you hear me? How do you feel? I'm Ling!"
"I feel improved," the patient answered.
Professor Ling is the chief physician at the Neurosurgery Department of People's Liberation Army General Hospital.
He says 5G remote surgery now makes the technique more accessible for smaller hospitals in the country's less developed areas. "I had to fly to other hospitals to help them do this surgery before. But since half a year ago, we've been exploring to do it remotely. Now 5G signals work much better than 4G," he said.
On March 16, Ling operated on a patient from 3000 kilometers away. That was China's first long-distance surgery done via a 5G network on a human body. Ling says in the last 20 years, only about 22,000 Parkinson's patients nationwide received the DBS implant procedure. The surgeries are few at this point: largely due to the 200,000 yuan price, which is not covered by medical insurance. There's also a lack of qualified physicians who can perform them. Ling hopes 5G can help him operate for more patients and even cooperate with countries along the Belt and Road.