Academic journal article The Journal of High Technology Law

Cybersurgery: Why the United States Should Embrace This Emerging Technology

Academic journal article The Journal of High Technology Law

Cybersurgery: Why the United States Should Embrace This Emerging Technology

Article excerpt


John Jones and his wife Maggie are in the mountains of Montana on their 50th wedding anniversary. (1) John has always dreamed of seeing the towering mountains and lush valleys where his parents grew up before moving to the East Coast with their young family, and the couple thought the occasion was a perfect time to get away before advancing age and declining health restricted their mobility. Unfortunately, on the last night of their stay, John started feeling intense pain radiating from his chest down his left arm. The couple rushes to their vehicle and drive fifty miles to the nearest emergency room, with John gasping and getting grayer by every mile marker sign. Upon reaching the tiny local hospital, nurses confirm the couple's worst nightmare--John is in cardiac arrest. The only possible way to save John is through emergency open-heart surgery, and the closest surgeon capable of such a surgery is 300 miles away at the next hospital.

However, the Jones' are fortunate because this local hospital recently opened a new cybersurgery wing which would allow John access to a surgeon in New York via remotely operated surgical device. As soon as John is anesthetized and the physician assistant has prepared the device, the surgeon in New York connects via broadband technology and performs the critically needed surgery. With the accuracy of both the skilled surgeon and the robotic machine, only a small sized incision is made. Within days, John is healing and back on the East Coast surrounded by his grandchildren. Without the remote surgery, John would have died within the hour. Although this sounds like science fiction, the scenario described above has already played out in reality several times. (2) The particular circumstances may have been different - perhaps someone suffered a gallbladder attack, or a mother gave birth to an infant with a heart malformation--but remote surgeries are no longer a technology of the future. (3) Cybersurgery is the term that describes a surgical procedure where a surgeon with access to a control panel in one location utilizes a telecommunication connection to control a medical device in another location. (4) The technology was first used when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first medical device intended for robotic surgery in July 2000. (5)

The practical implications of this technology are far-reaching. Medically under-served areas could offer their patients access to the most qualified specialists; third world countries could offer their citizens United States quality healthcare; dying members of the armed forces could be moments away from salvation via a mobile cybersurgery vehicle. The list goes on. However, despite the potential for overwhelming benefits, substantial legal obstacles hinder this technology's future. 6 This Note will focus on the possible implications of cybersurgery for Americans, and the need for the United States government to facilitate the entrance of this technology into our healthcare industry.

Part I will discuss the origins and current state of cybersurgery. Part II will discuss the obstacles facing the cybersurgery field and the current state of healthcare and the healthcare industry in the United States. Part III will discuss the possibilities this technology could hold for the United States, including savings for the healthcare industry, strides in the global economy, and improvements of the quality of healthcare. The current steps the United States has taken toward embracing this technology and how the United States can further support the cybersurgery field will also be discussed in Part III.

Part I - History

Cybersurgery is part of the broader field of medicine called telemedicine. (7) The definition of telemedicine, or telehealth, varies across jurisdictions within the United States. (8) The federal definition of "telehealth services" for Medicare reimbursement purposes changes frequently and is defined based on coverage of specific services rather than a broad idea of what telehealth means. …

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