Advancements in state-of-the-art robotic technology are propelling surgical capabilities into the future at SCL Health, now Intermountain Health, Front Range hospitals. Initially developed and FDA-approved for general laparoscopic use in 2000, innovative robotic systems are now being utilized across various medical specialties and surgical applications. The robotic technology used by Intermountain Health takes surgery beyond the limits of the human hand. It enables doctors to make smaller incisions and perform surgery with greater precision.
As chair of the Good Samaritan robotics committee, Dr. John Kefer of Colorado Urology has seen robotic technology evolve significantly since its first iterations. Today, he uses robot-assisted technology to perform prostate, kidney, bladder, and ureter surgeries.
New developments in robotics improve outcome
“The pelvis is a small space, and it can be tough to maneuver laparoscopic instruments in that region,” he said. “Early on, there were some real advantages to the robotic technology, and by the third and fourth generations, we started to see some really nice developments that have made it much easier to perform these surgeries.”
As lead neurosurgeon for Good Samaritan’s spine program, Dr. Kevin Chow relies on robotic support during thoracolumbar spinal fusions.
“We did our first robot-assisted spine case at Good Samaritan in February 2021,” Dr. Chow said. “The robot serves as an assistant to the spine surgeon, allowing accurate and efficient placement of pedicle screws.”
Robotic surgery assists, doesn’t replace, the surgeon
The term "robotic technology" may lead some patients to wonder whether some sort of space-age robot with no human intervention is performing their surgeries. Doctors are quick to point out this isn’t the case. The technology is simply an advanced system of software and tools that allow the surgeon better vision of the surgical field, more precise navigation, greater flexibility, and easier manipulation of the surgical instruments. Although the contributions of the robotic unit are undoubtedly valuable, the surgeon is still ultimately in control of the entire process from start to finish. Nowadays, it’s uncommon for doctors not to incorporate robotic assistance when it’s available.
“Robotic surgery technology takes surgery beyond the limits of the human hand,” Dr. Kefer explained. “Thanks to robotic assistance, surgeons can perform delicate and complex procedures that may be difficult or impossible with other more traditional methods.”
Using robotic technology, Dr. Bill Cooney, an orthopedic surgeon with the Orthopaedic & Spine Center of the Rockies, can create a personalized surgical plan for knee replacements.
“Standard knee replacement is very reliable, but the robotic system makes it much more precise,” Dr. Cooney said. “We get a CT scan of the knee that’s placed into the software platform. Then, we put in guide pins with tracking devices that communicate with the robot, map out and identify all the landmarks so there’s a precise operative field, and use the robotic arm to cut the bony surfaces.”
Range of potential benefits
From the patient’s perspective, minimally invasive robot-assisted surgeries offer several potential benefits, including fewer complications, less blood loss, lower risk of infection, and faster overall recoveries with very little pain or bruising. Anecdotally, doctors are noting higher satisfaction rates among patients following surgeries that include the use of robotic technology. And because the technology streamlines the surgical process, doctors can operate faster. For the patient, this means less time under anesthesia and, thanks to sophisticated electronic capabilities, X-ray exposure is reduced for both patients and the surgical staff.
As robotic surgical technology becomes more commonplace, many medical residency programs and fellowships are now incorporating it into their standard curriculums. Continuing education, lab work and certification courses keep surgeons up to date on new software and applications as they emerge.
Good Samaritan is at the forefront
Good Samaritan is designated as a Center of Excellence in robotic surgery, giving patients confidence in knowing they are being treated by highly skilled surgeons who have been well-trained in the most advanced technology on the market. Doctors predict that the use of robotic technology will only continue to grow into the future.
“Robotic surgery is a new frontier, and Good Samaritan is at the forefront of making that technology available to patients,” Dr. Chow said.
“The future is undoubtedly moving in the direction of more robotic-assisted surgery,” Dr. Cooney agreed. “I was a naysayer at first because we didn't have a great experience with the early-generation technology, and we were slow to adopt it. But now, it allows us to be much more precise with our surgical outcomes. Thanks to robotic systems, we know where we’re going to end up before we even start operating. That’s reassuring to me, and I hope it’s reassuring to our patients as well.”
To learn more about robotic surgical technology available at our Front Range hospitals, visit sclhealth.org and talk with your surgeon about the options that are best for you.