Vail Health reports positive results of robotic surgery technology

Dr. Turner Lisle, center, speaks to onlookers about the Da Vinci’s capabilities on Wednesday, May 25.
Vail Health / courtesy photo

Vail Health hosted an event on Wednesday, May 25 to allow the public to see the Da Vinci robotic surgery tool first-hand. The robot translates human movements into robotic movements, and Vail Health is reporting positive results after using it for nearly a year and a half.

The robot can transform a pinch of the thumb and forefinger into an electronic clamping of a surgical forceps or almost any other surgical instrument.

For some patients, the term Da Vinci is a mystery, said Stephanie Kearney, vice president of ambulatory services at Vail Health.

“It’s an unfamiliar term,” Kearney said.

The four arms of the machine hang above the patient. The surgeon controls the arms and the camera from a nearby console. Dr Turner Lisle said the doctor is still in the same room.

Reference to a procedure performed on Da Vinci’s predecessor, ZEUS, Lisle said, “They did a transatlantic cholecystectomy. I can’t figure out how they did that in 2001. We would never consider doing that now.

Dr. Turner Lisle walks someone through the controls of the Da Vinci.
Vail Health / courtesy photo

He said communication between the surgical team alongside the patient and the operating surgeon was important for successful surgeries, and he wouldn’t want bandwidth limitations to get in the way.

The main advantage of the Da Vinci lies in its minimally invasive impact. The instruments and cameras are small enough to pass through keyhole-sized incisions, which means less scarring and less time needed to heal. Despite their small size, the instruments have full articulation.

“It can articulate like the human wrist,” Lisle said. The old standard of “straight sticking,” or using a straight, claw-like tool with only the ability to open and close, often resulted in more tissue trauma and abdominal pain during laparoscopic surgeries, a he declared. The Da Vinci allows for more advanced movements and less trauma, as the increased articulation allows the operator to navigate the abdomen less awkwardly and with more precision.

Less pain and fewer incisions also mean a faster return to activity. He said patients can resume physical activities a few days after an operation. Generally speaking, he said normal recovery times of six to eight weeks were reduced to 10 to 14 days.

The Da Vinci does not replace doctors, nor is it a crutch. Lisle said Da Vinci doesn’t make a bad surgeon good.

“It makes a good surgeon better,” he said, allowing the surgeon to perform more complex operations.

Operations around the anterior abdominal wall, he said, in particular can be difficult. With the patient lying face up, the surgeon must find a way to operate on the underside of the abdominal wall while standing above the body. The Da Vinci makes this easy with its articulation and ability to drop in and out like a hook.

While the surgeon must be in the room, a consulted surgeon does not. Lisle said if another surgeon using the Da Vinci needed advice from another doctor, they could live stream the Da Vinci’s camera to a smartphone.

Since its implementation in December 2020, Vail Health has seen a decrease in complications and opioid prescriptions.

“We reduced the prescription of narcotics by an average of 75 percent,” Lisle said of comparing robotic surgeries to standard laparoscopic surgeries. Vail Health reports that opioid prescribing after inguinal and ventral hernia repairs dropped 83% and 82%, respectively, compared to open surgeries.

Similarly, data from Vail Health shows that complications from surgery have decreased significantly compared to national averages. He also reports no complications from surgery or surgical site infections.

Vail Health’s robotics program has treated 370 cases to date. Of these, 319 were general procedures or hernias, 32 were urological, and 19 were gynecological.

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