Background Remote surgery social implementation necessitates achieving low latency and highly reliable video/operation signal transmission over economical commercial networks. However, with commercial lines, communication bandwidth often fluctuates with network congestion and interference from narrowband lines acting as bottlenecks. Therefore, verifying the effects on surgical performance and surgeon fatigue when communication lines dip below required bandwidths are important. Objectives To clarify the communication bandwidth environment effects on image transmission and operability when bandwidth is lower than surgical robot requirements, and to determine surgeon fatigue levels in suboptimal environments. Methods Employing a newly developed surgical robot, a commercial IP-VPN line connected two hospitals 150 km apart. Thirteen surgical residents remotely performed a defined suturing procedure at 1-Gbps to 3-Mbps bandwidths. Communication delay, packet loss, time-to-task completion, forceps-movement distance, video degradation, and robot operability were evaluated before and after bandwidth changes. The Piper Fatigue Score-12 (PFS-12) was used to measure fatigue associated with surgeon performance. Results Roundtrip communication time for both 1-Gbps and 3-Mbps lines averaged 4 ms. Video transmission delay from camera to monitor was comparable, at 92 ms. Surgical robot signal transmission rate averaged 5.2 Mbps, so changing to 1-Gbps-3-Mbps lines resulted in significant packet loss. Surgeons perceived significant roughness, image distortion, diplopia, and degradation of 3D images (p = 0.009), but not changes in delay time or maneuverability. All surgeons could complete tasks, but objective measurement of task-completion time and forceps-travel distance were significantly prolonged (p = 0.013, p = 0,041). Additionally, PFS-12 showed post-procedure fatigue increase at both 1-Gbps and 3-Mbps. Fatigue increase was significant at 3-Mbps (p = 0.041). Conclusions In remote surgery environments with less than the optimal bandwidth, even when delay time and operability are equivalent, reduced surgical performance occurs from video degradation from packet loss. This may cause increased surgeon fatigue.
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