The doctors have ditched the costly and cumbersome monitors and video cameras seen in most hospitals. Instead, they attach outdated iPhone models onto their neuroendoscopic equipment, which are much smaller, less expensive, and surprisingly more effective.
This practice is documented by a recently-published study in the Journal of Neurosurgery. The authors reported that using a smartphone decreased the cost and inefficiency of minimally-invasive surgical procedures. Furthermore, it also made the procedure easier for rookie surgeons to pick up.
"Our initial goal was to reduce the cost of the neuroendoscopic video set," said co-author Dr. Mauricio Mandel of the University of São Paulo Medical School. "In the end, we came across a new, more intuitive and fluid method of performing these procedures."
In their study, the authors and their fellow surgeons performed a number of neuroendoscopy surgeries. These are procedures where neurosurgeons open up an incision in their patient's nose, head, or mouth for the insertion of an endoscope, a flexible tube that can feed surgical tools inside a patient's body.
A standard neuroendoscopy calls for the insertion of a video camera through the endoscope to provide a live video feed of the patient's internals. The video is sent to a monitor set beside the operating table.
Surgeons must alternate between looking down at their patient and looking up at the monitor. It's a pretty confusing and exhausting way to conduct brain surgery.
Mandel's team tested out a different apparatus seemingly taken from an episode of MacGyver. They attached old iPhones to their endoscopes via an adapter and performed 42 brain surgeries using the modified gear.
They reported that the iPhones improved their focus on their patient during the procedures. The surgeons found it easier to glance at the screen of the smartphone instead of craning their head upwards to look at a traditional monitor.
In addition, they could use the iPhone's Wi-Fi to stream live footage of the ongoing operation to a video monitor in the same room. The other members of the surgical team could watch their operation without needing to crowd them.
Mandel reported that his team successfully completed all of their surgeries. They found no complications that could be traced to the smartphones.
Furthermore, surgeons who tried out the smartphone-endoscope chose to adopted the new method instead of going back to the older equipment. (Related: Despite studies finding increases risk of cancer from cellphone radiation, the FDA claims they’re safe as long as you’re not a “heavy user”.)
The authors reported that smartphone integration brought many advantages to the surgical table that could not be matched by specialized endoscopic video equipment.
Smartphones are cheaper, lighter, and easier to carry than conventional endoscopic video gear. They also don't need to be the newest models; Mandel used outdated iPhone 4, 5, and 6 models.
The high-definition camera and display of an iPhone gave users an excellent view of the surgical site. The view could be adjusted or boosted with the flick of a finger across the touch screen.
Since they are battery-powered, iPhones do not need external power sources or a steady supply of electricity. If they run low during long surgeries, they can be recharged from portable power banks that can fit in a surgeon's pocket.
Based on their findings, the authors believe smartphones could become a welcome workaround for doctors and hospitals in areas that cannot afford or support advanced medical equipment.
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