Tarrant was amazed when she woke up after the operation. “I felt around on my belly, and I had barely any pain. And when I saw the incisions, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really small.’” She was up walking eight hours later.
The surgeons’ choice—for some conditions
The da Vinci Surgical System has become the go- to technology for many urological and gynecological surgeries, including hysterectomies, ovary removal, appendectomies, bowel resections, prostate removals and fibroid tumor removals. Dr. Hibner, who in 2009 performed more surgeries using the da Vinci system than any other physician in the country, estimates that he uses the system in 60 to 70 percent of his cases.
Other specialties are also exploring the system’s possibilities. St. Joseph’s thoracic surgeons, for example, now use the da Vinci system for 15-20 percent of their cases. The team completed Arizona’s first robotic-assisted lobectomy for early-stage cancer.
Thoracic surgeon Elbert Kuo, MD, says that although the system is impressive, it is not right for every patient. “Patients come in asking for robotic surgery,” he says. “They need to have a heart-to-heart with their doctor about whether it’s the best approach for their particular case. It offers another tool in our arsenal, but it’s definitely not the best tool in the box for every patient.”
The da Vinci system does have its downsides. Research shows that procedures utilizing the system are more costly than standard laparoscopic procedures. Other disadvantages include longer procedure times and a lack of tactile sensation for the surgeon.
The future of surgery
But for the appropriate case, robotic-assisted laparoscopy offers several distinct advantages over other surgery techniques, these surgeons say. These include enhanced visualization, thanks to 3D images of the surgical field; wristed instruments that have more range of motion than the human hand; a computer system that scales and fine tunes the surgeon’s hand movements, eliminating tremor; and a more comfortable working environment for the surgeon.
Robotic-assisted laparoscopy is pushing surgical technology in the right direction, says Dr. Desai. “For patients, it can get them back to their lives quicker, and that’s what’s important to us—doing the best for our patients.”