Communications Systems in Medicine
Created: Jan 2022
Cutting-edge technologies which take advantage of high-speed communication networks are expected to contribute to several aspects of medicine, from performing surgeries to furthering biomedical research.
One notable example of such high-end technology, which requires considerable bandwidth, is the concept of tele-surgery. The idea is that a doctor performs a surgery over the Internet on a patient that is separated from the surgeon by an (often considerable) physical distance. This is achieved by coupling today’s advanced robotic technologies (robotic surgery) to high-speed wireless networks. The importance of this technology is paramount, as it addresses the shortage of surgeons in certain places (e.g. rural areas) and the geographical barriers that might prevent the specialist doctors from reaching the patient on time for a potential life-saving surgery. It also increases the likelihood that a patient will receive a surgery from a doctor who specializes in this specific type of surgery, which improves the patient’s prognosis. This approach is also expected to improve the safety of surgeons, a point particularly important given the current COVID-19 pandemic.
A similar idea can be used not only for remote surgeries, but also for more efficient training of future medical professionals. A technology called Virtual Interactive Presence (VIP) allows neurosurgeons from different locations to collaborate online, in real time by a shared 3-Dimensional (3D) display using high-definition binoculars. VIP displays a merged surgical field display of both surgeon’s hand motions, and was used to carry out several successful test surgeries on a cadaveric model. The collaborating team does not necessarily have to consist of two professional surgeons, but can have one professional surgeon, and one medicine student, which gives this technology an educational value. The current problem of VIP is long latency time, which means there is a delay in the transfer of data such as hand movement. It is thus important to take advantage of the future improvements in the communication networks and incorporate them into the field of medicine. Augmented reality and related technologies similar to VIP can be expected to improve the surgery performance and medical education in the future.
High-speed communication networks can also make sophisticated national health information infrastructures a reality. Such an infrastructure could contain the electronic medical records of all the inhabitants of a certain country, which would greatly facilitate running the national health schemes. This technology could be also incorporated on an international level, for example between members of the same alliance, such as European Union, which would be one more step to increase mobility and convenience.
Another cutting-edge technology example is an online program for analyzing sophisticated large medical images, either by an algorithm or a distantly located professional. As those medical image files can be quite heavy, high-speed communication networks would be required for their transfer between an imaging center and the place/server where they are interpreted.
Current biomedical research generates large amounts of data, such as the sequences of DNA and proteins or 3D images of biochemical molecule structures. This information is often stored in ever-growing biomedical databases used by thousands of researchers. The host sites for those databases need a large bandwidth to be able to respond to thousands, or sometimes even hundreds of thousands of database requests per day. Some of those databases, or separate projects altogether, also allow to run online simulations of e.g. protein folding or macromolecule binding, which relies heavily on calculation power and speedy data transfer. Technologies which will facilitate that transfer will contribute to furthering biomedical research.
One more important technology which relies on high-speed communication is the remote control of experimental apparatus, especially expensive equipment such as electron microscopes or X-ray crystallographic radiation sources. The researchers can send their samples off to equipment operators and then run their experiments (observation) remotely. From their own lab, they can, for example, move their samples freely in the microscope, adjusting the field of vision and magnification as desired. Doing so in real time requires appropriate bandwidth, but the technology increases the availability of expensive equipment to more researchers and reduces travel costs.
In conclusion, advanced technologies that incorporate high-speed communication networks can be used to increase the availability of high-quality surgeries, train future medical professionals, and further the biomedical research, thus contributing greatly to the field of medicine.
National Research Council (US) Committee on Enhancing the Internet for Health Applications: Technical Requirements and Implementation Strategies. Networking Health: Prescriptions for the Internet. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2000. 2, Health Applications of the Internet. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44714/
National Academy of Engineering (US) and Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Engineering and the Health Care System; Reid PP, Compton WD, Grossman JH, et al., editors. Building a Better Delivery System: A New Engineering/Health Care Partnership. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2005. 4, Information and Communications Systems: The Backbone of the Health Care Delivery System. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22862/
Choi, P. J., Oskouian, R. J., & Tubbs, R. S. (2018). Telesurgery: Past, Present, and Future. Cureus, 10(5), e2716. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.2716