A doctor sitting at a screen manipulating a robot’s arms to conduct surgery may sound like a scene from a science fiction novel, but in reality, robot-assisted surgery is revolutionizing health care around the world — including in Joplin.
For the past decade, surgeons at Mercy Hospital Joplin, have used a robotic surgical device to help lessen the invasiveness of surgical procedures ranging from hysterectomies to general surgery.
The system got an upgrade earlier this year when officials purchased the latest device: an Intuitive Da Vinci Xi.
The new system allows surgeons to place the robot’s arms closer together without worrying about them colliding. The cameras provide a better visual, and a new addition allows them to examine blood flow while doing precise procedures.
Dr. Kenneth Watts, a general surgeon at Mercy Joplin, said robot-assisted surgery allows surgeons a way to conduct procedures using a small incision.
Robotic assistance differs from previous laparoscopic options because the arms have a similar rotation to the human hand.
In many surgeries, Watts said, because the procedure is less invasive, the need for post-operative pain medication is reduced. Often it allows surgeons to send patients home the next day and in some cases the same day, thus reducing a lengthy hospital stay.
It also allows surgeons the chance to do tougher procedures using smaller incisions rather than a fully open surgery. That also reduces the amount of post-operative recovery.
How it works
Surgeons install ports into a patient, allowing them to insert the instruments into the area in question during the surgery.
The robot is positioned next to a patient’s bedside, and the surgeon controls the robotic arms using hand and foot controls.
The robot’s instruments project an image on a screen, which allows surgeons to get “superior, enhanced pictures” Watts said, in 3D images — just like a normal operation.
Because the robotic movement is similar to a surgeon’s wrist action, allowing for 90-degree access, it allows for more precise movement over past laparoscopic procedures, which was limited to movement associated with two straight instruments.
“It allows for smarter surgeries,” Watts said. “It’s changing surgeries. We can take on cases we might normally convert to open surgeries, allowing more difficult cases to happen without big incisions.”
Watts said new surgeons learn how to use the robotic device during residency. Established surgeons learn through a variety of continuing education and training options.
He said surgeons who know how to do the laparoscopic procedures can easily transition to the robot-assisted procedures because the movement allowed is very similar to a traditional operation, using open surgery techniques.
Making a difference
Surgeries such as hysterectomies, which often included an extended day stay in the hospital, can now allow a patient to go home the next day, if not the same day.
A patient undergoing colon surgery may go home the next day rather than facing a three- to five-day hospital stay. Watts said this happens because the patient experiences less pain, and their bowel function returns quicker because the surgery requires less manipulation to the bowels.
“The benefit is patients can get back to work quicker,” Watts said. “We used to tell (hernia) patients no heavy lifting for six weeks, then we reduced it to four weeks. Now we’re looking at dropping it to two weeks or when they don’t have any pain.”