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Fiber Nets Help Surgeons Get the Picture

May 10, 2006 2:02 PM


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Many of the elements of the so-called "operating room of the future" are in place today, including the fiber-based communications systems that enable a host of critical diagnostic and decision support features.

Today, surgeons rely heavily on video imaging, both to display outputs from all kinds of imaging systems and to provide them with a variety of views of the actual work in progress on the operating table. These realtime images are captured by high-definition digital cameras and routed to “medical-grade” LCD screens and other displays mounted on extremely versatile, multi-jointed booms that enable the surgeon to have the displays precisely where they’re most comfortable and visible.

The displayed images can also incorporate data from all over the hospital. High-definition 16:9 screens can be split to allow side-by-side displays of the ongoing surgery and whatever data is essential at the moment. “Surgeons can choose to split a monitor screen and show the surgical field, a patient’s vital signs, lab results, and X-rays, and route it to the pathologist’s office to view in realtime,” notes a report called OR of the Future by Massachusetts General Hospital and the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT).

Moreover, new features can be added easily. Much of this capability is possible because the advanced OR communications systems rely on fiber connections. Fiber is driving this progress for both physical and technical reasons.

Don Hosmer, national sales manager, Broadata Communications, Torrance, Calif., cites a growing demand for higher-quality video as one reason fiber networks in ORs are growing. “S-Video was as good as they could get up until about last year,” Hosmer says. Recently, the advent of low-cost HD cameras has sparked demand for better displays—which means more capability to move lots of data through OR networks.

Some of the reasons for fiber’s appeal are simply practical. Hosmer notes a 12-fiber cable is less than 3/8in. in diameter, while a copper cable bundle with the same data capacity would be about 3in. thick. These cables are running through multi-part boom structures that often include several articulated joints with extensive range of motion. There just isn’t room for a 3in. cable, and copper isn’t flexible enough for the bending to which it would be subjected.

VTS Medical Systems of Freeport, N.Y., also promotes a variety of fiber networking products for OR applications by stressing ease of upgrades. “With existing systems, wires had to be run for each video input and output through large conduits,” according to the company. “If a new signal type had to be added, another cable had to be run.”

As the company says, “[A fiber network, by contrast,] requires only a few small fiber-optic cables to run up to 12 different audio, video, and data signals.”

Images can be captured in the OR through highly miniaturized (yet high-definition) video cameras that can be mounted almost anywhere and moved around as needed. According to the CIMIT report, “Surgeons now can capture images in the operating room and simultaneously make them part of the medical record.”

Or, these images can support medical education. The old image of students peering down from a gallery, straining to see what the surgeon is doing, has passed into history. Today’s students can gather in a separate classroom and watch multiple realtime, high-definition images, together with all the clinical data available to the surgeon.

Of course, this requires a lot of data-moving capacity, and quality is absolutely critical. These, Hosmer says, are two more arguments for fiber in OR settings. Video transmitted through fiber doesn’t have to be compressed, so there’s no loss of image quality. Data can travel over long fiber cable runs without degradation, and isn’t vulnerable to interference from the multitude of other electronic signals and emissions common in hospitals.

Surgical users, Hosmer says, “really like fiber in general.” And they are being supported by equipment vendors building an increasing number of systems around fiber networks.



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