Background: Telementoring allows a less experienced surgeon to benefit from an expert surgical consultation, reducing cost, travel, and the learning curve associated with new procedures. However, there are several technical limitations that affect practical applications. One potentially serious problem is the time delay that occurs any time data are transferred across long distances. To date, the effect of time delay on surgical performance has not been studied. Materials and Methods: A two-phase trial was designed to examine the effect of time delay on surgical performance. In the first phase, a series of tasks was performed, and the numbers of robotic movements required for completion was counted. Programmed incremental time delays were made in audiovisual acquisition and robotic controls. The number of errors made while performing each task at various time delay intervals was noted. In the second phases a remote surgeon in Baltimore performed the tasks 9000 miles away in Singapore. The number of errors made was recorded. Results: As the time delay increased, the number of operator errors increased. The accuracy needed to perform remote robotic procedures was diminished as the time delay increased. A learning curve did exist for each task, but as the time delay interval increased, it took longer to complete the task. Conclusions: Time delay does affect surgical performance. There is an acceptable delay of <700 msec in which surgeons can compensate for this phenomenon. Clinical studies will be needed to evaluate the true impact of time delay.
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