Heart specialists in Singapore now have an extra set of helping hands in the operating theatre.
The new assistant is a robotic arm which assists them in minute but vital surgical manoeuvres. It allows doctors to perform angioplasty more efficiently and precisely.
During the procedure, doctors place stents - small tubes that can relieve blocked or narrow arteries by propping them open - in a patient's heart.
A team of doctors in Tan Tock Seng Hospital's interventional cardiology department became the first in South-east Asia last December to use this new technology to perform robotic-assisted angioplasty. More than 70 patients have since received this treatment at the hospital, with positive results.
Dr Paul Ong, senior consultant and head of Tan Tock Seng Hospital's interventional cardiology department, revealed the development to The Straits Times yesterday.
The robotic arm allows him to position the stent with accuracy, reducing the chances of human error.
This technology might allow doctors to complete operations faster and more accurately, compared with inserting the stent through conventional procedures where doctors move the stent manually, guided by X-ray visualisations of the heart.
Dr Ong said: "With this technology, the surgeon controls the robotic arm from a workstation outside the operating theatre. The artery is magnified much further, so we can make precise movements to position the stent." The stent is inserted to prop open blood vessels that might be clogged with fatty deposits, preventing the arteries from closing up and stopping the healthy flow of blood through the heart.
Dr Ong added: "When stents are 1mm too long, they might block branches of blood vessels adjacent to the artery being operated on. But when the stent is too short, perhaps more stents might be required, making the operation more complicated and costly. This machine allows us to position the stent with enhanced accuracy to create better outcomes for patients.
"In Singapore, one out of three deaths is due to heart disease or stroke. With an ageing population, we are likely to see more patients with these diseases."
The team plans to explore the full potential of performing surgical procedures remotely, as well as the use of artificial intelligence to automate parts of the procedure, which may shorten the training curve for heart specialists.