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Robot-assisted surgery improves in the RGV

After completing about six minor surgeries last Wednesday, Dr. Daniel Lee found himself cramping up during a minimally invasive operation at the end of his day.

The obstetrician gynecologist had been performing traditional laparoscopic surgeries – the kind of surgery where the doctor inserts a thin, fiber optic cable through an incision to find problems such as cysts.

A laparoscopy, or minimally invasive surgery, involves a doctor looking at a screen about 5 feet away and meticulously maneuvering the cable with their hands in a way it would be difficult to maneuver instruments. But after hours of standing, squinting at the screen and working with their hands, the surgeon’s body can experience fatigue, according to Lee. However, this problem doesn’t occur when he performs robotic assisted surgeries.20151106 AREA Robot surgery 3294

There are five robots from Intuitive Surgical in hospitals throughout the Valley, but only Edinburg Regional Medical Center has the newest generation of medical robot — the da Vinci XI.

A machine, known as the overhead boom, has spider-like look to it, with surgical instruments attached to four robot arms. Each arm has an extended range of motion that mimics that of a human wrist.

The surgeon controls the robot through a separate machine that filters precise movements into the arms while a 3D, high-definition screen is right in front of the the doctor.

Instead of standing for hours at a time and looking at a screen a few feet away, Lee can sit comfortably and perform the operation with highly magnified vision.

“This is a game changer because in the past there was like, ‘How in the world am I going to continue doing this week after week, year after year, trying to do this traditional stuff with all the muscle fatigue?’” 41-year-old Lee explained. “For me, it’s a lot easier physically and mentally because I’m able to just concentrate.”

Da Vinci XI costs about $2 million, but that includes the equipment as well as training modules for staff and physicians and a simulation model. There are about 10 surgeons trained at Edinburg Regional, and another handful in training. The hospital has had the robot for about five months.

“One of the determining factors for us in purchasing this technology is that we were starting to hear patients in the community about robotic services, as well as our physicians,” said Jerome Brooks, the COO for South Texas Health Systems. “We felt we needed to look into this, but then ultimately purchase it for our hospital and our community.”

For the patient, the benefits include a shorter recovery time, a shorter operation time and less room for human error in comparison to previous robot generations, according to Intuitive Clinical Sales Rep Gil Gonzales.

Because of the shorter operation time, it also means less money spent for the hospital, but the procedure is only cost efficient in the right type of patient, Lee said. But he has not received any complaints from the ones that that have undergone the robot-assisted surgery.

“We are moving and advancing in technology in the Valley,” Lee said. “And I think there’s health systems that are wanting to not just be what they were. They’re wanting to advance healthcare and that’s good.”

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