East Georgia Regional Medical Center's ongoing effort to provide the latest in health care technology for its physicians and patients recently brought the da Vinci robotic surgery system to the hospital.
"East Georgia Regional is always interested in investing in technology that is best for the patient," said Nathan Vooys, assistant administrator of the hospital. "The da Vinci is just the next step from a surgical standpoint as it provides minimally invasive surgery that is less painful resulting in a shorter recovery time for the patient as well as a lower rate of infection."
Vooys said the robotic operating system is the latest innovation in surgical technology, as well as a very important recruiting tool for bringing physicians to this area.
"Physicians that are coming out of training these days are comfortable and familiar with robotic surgery," he said. "Therefore, this is something that we want to be able to offer to them so that they will come to Statesboro and practice here."
With the da Vinci, small incisions are used to introduce miniaturized wristed instruments and a high-definition 3D camera. Seated at the da Vinci console, the surgeon views a magnified, high-resolution 3D image of the surgical site. At the same time, state-of-the-art robotic and computer technologies scale, filter and seamlessly translate the surgeon's hand movements into precise micro-movements of the da Vinci instruments.
Vooys said there are misunderstandings regarding robotic surgery that have to be explained to many patients preparing to undergo surgery with the device.
"There is a big misperception that this is automated surgery, when in fact it is completely controlled by the surgeon," he said. "The surgeon never leaves the room for the entire time, controlling the da Vinci just like any surgical tool. It is an extension of their hand."
The system cannot be programmed, nor can it make decisions on its own. Rather, the da Vinci System requires that every surgical maneuver be performed with direct input from the surgeon.
Currently, East Georgia has two physicians on staff that are certified to use the da Vinci. Dr. Ben Oldham and Dr. Lisa Rogers have already performed several surgeries using the new technology, and both are obstetrician/gynecologists.
"Dr. Rogers and I have been working, training, and getting our hospital ready for robotic surgery," Oldham said. "I've been a physician for 23 years, and I have been out of my residency for 19 years. I really didn't have any idea that this type of equipment would be available someday, and we have really made some giant strides that have led up to this point."
Like hundreds of other physicians that use the surgical system, Oldham has high praise for the innovations that it brings to the operating room.
"There are a number of things that it does better," he said. "One is that you are better able to see where you are operating. The surgeon is working with a high definition image that is a three dimensional. This makes surgery much safer, because you work where you need to work and stay away from areas that you need to stay away from."
Rogers said she believes that eventually most surgeries in her specialty will be done robotically.
"From an OB/GYN standpoint, I feel like there is a real possibility that this technology will be used for most if not all of the procedures that we do with the exception of cesarean sections," she said. "I foresee that in time, we will be able to bring in experts from other locations who will be able to plug into our system and offer suggestions and help with surgeries. There are a tremendous number of future possibilities."
Vooys said the advantages of the da Vinci aren't limited to a better experience for the patient, or a more precise surgical instrument for the surgeon.
"Throughout the history of surgery, the physician is standing at the table leaning over the patient, and operating with both hands with some surgeries lasting several hours," he said. "A lot of physicians prefer the da Vinci because they can sit at the ergonomically designed console comfortably for hours, and not get tired while maintaining the same steady precision that is required for that surgical procedure."
Rogers said with robotic surgery becoming the new "norm," it was important to her to learn and master this new technology.
"I wanted to advance my skills, and I wanted to keep up with the latest trends that are coming out of the residency programs," she said. "As physicians, the advantage of having a hospital purchase an instrument like this is that we are able to further our skill level, and provide our patients with a surgical option that they would not have to go out of town for."
Vooys said he expects other area physicians to become proficient with the da Vinci in the near future.