Doctors turn to robots in surgery

November 4, 2009 5:21:18 PM PST
The medical field, like just about every other industry, is undergoing a revolution of change sparked, in part, by new technology. For example, robot technology is now being used by some doctors in the operating room to perform surgeries that were once done by hand. At Memorial Hermann Memorial City Hospital, robot technology is helping doctors in the operating room perform surgeries from heart procedures to hysterectomies.

Dr. Sherri Levin, Memorial Hermann Hospital OB-GYN, explained, "What's the typical hysterectomy? It's a big incision either low down on the belly or up and down. That's what we've done for a gazillion years."

With the Da Vinci Surgical System, a surgeon first makes three small quarter inch incisions around the belly button, then maneuvers surgical instruments inside the tiny cuts using hand and foot controls. With this system, the doctor is not standing over the patient but, instead, is situated about 10 feet away operating the system's master console.

Dr. Levin says every OB-GYN surgery she does laparoscopically she can do better with the robot. She does it more easily, with better magnification and a smaller incision.

That's what appealed to Jennifer Pratt, who had surgery just a few months ago using the Da Vinci system. She says its quick recovery time and its more pleasing cosmetic results made it the easy choice versus traditional hysterectomy.

"I thought, 'I'm looking at 8 to 10 weeks.' She explained, three weeks I'd be back," Pratt said. "I walked around the neighborhood the night I got back from the hospital."

The Da Vinci robot can be used anywhere on the body and can work with several dozen surgical instruments, depending on the type of surgery. It's already been used for cardiac, thoracic and oncology procedures.

Dr. Levin said, "(It's) really cool to be a physician at this point in time."

Pratt felt fortunate to have this option.

"I can start living and put this behind me," she said.

Each year, more than half a million hysterectomy procedures are performed in the US. It's the second most frequently performed surgical procedure for women after cesarean section.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter.

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