Robot now being used in Yampa Valley Medical Center operating room | SteamboatToday.com

Robot now being used in Yampa Valley Medical Center operating room

Yampa Valley Medical Center surgeon Allen Belshaw uses the da Vinci surgical system to perform a gallbladder surgery at the hospital. The robotic surgery system allows the surgeons to make more precise movements by guiding a robotic arm via a console.

— Surgeons at Yampa Valley Medical Center are turning to a robot to make surgeries more comfortable for them and their patients.

"It’s just another tool, and we’re very excited to have it," Steamboat Springs urologist Stacy Childs said about the da Vinci Surgical System that recently was rolled out at the hospital. "I wish we had it four or five years ago."

The robot assists surgeons, and the technology allows for patients to undergo fewer incisions, feel less pain and experience less scarring, according to the hospital.

"They usually go home the next day or the same day of the surgery," Childs said. "That’s one thing. It’s less painful on the patient, and there’s less recuperation time before they’re back to work. That’s a benefit."

Before surgeons can use the robot, they must undergo extensive training and practice scenarios on a simulator.

Childs said the robot can make motions in three dimensions during a surgery with more precision than tools being held by the human hand.

"It’s phenomenal what you can do with this machine," he said.

It can be used during a variety of surgeries, including ones treating cancers of the prostate, ovary, endometrium and kidney.

Childs said he tracked 100 patients in his specialty in recent years who elected to go to other hospitals outside the Yampa Valley for surgery just because they had the robot.

He said that having the technology should allow patients to get treatment closer to home.

Childs said in addition to having benefits for patients, the robot makes surgeries more comfortable for the surgeons themselves.

"You can take your shoes off. You’re sitting in a nice comfortable chair, and your head is resting on a viewfinder looking at this 3-D image with your forearms on a nice, padded rest," Childs said. "That’s comfy. That’s a nice way to do an operation."

The motions of the surgeon’s hands, wrists and fingers are copied in real time by the robot during the operation.

Childs, the head of the hospital’s cancer committee, said the technology also allows surgeries to be conducted with fewer assistants in the room.

"It’s really a one-man show,” he said.

The robot most commonly is used during gynecological procedures across the country.

Here in Steamboat, it has assisted four surgeries and is planned to be used in three this week, Childs said.

The robot was purchased with the assistance of a donation from an anonymous donor.

Hospitals across the nation are turning to robots to assist in surgeries, but the rollout of the new technology has been bumpy at times.

The New York Times last year reported more than 1 million surgeries had been performed by da Vinci systems throughout the past decade.

But thousands of mishaps also had been reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between January 2000 and August 2012, according to The Times.

The Times reported a vast majority of the cases did not involve injuries to the patient, but the paper cited a study by The Journal for Healthcare Quality that reported there were 174 injuries and 71 deaths related to da Vinci surgery.

"There are always glitches in technology," Childs said Thursday when asked about the past problems with the tool. "But this is all surgeon related. The robot does not do anything wrong. The surgeon is misusing the robot if there’s a problem."

He said he thought robot-assisted surgeries were here to stay, and the technology only is going to get better.

"This one fits our needs perfectly," he said. "Ten years from now, they may be miniature. I can’t even fathom what the newer generations of these robots will do. They may be doing things inside the heart and inside the brain. It’s going to be phenomenal.”

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com