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July 8, 2009 > Robots an Emerging Tool for Women's Surgery

Robots an Emerging Tool for Women's Surgery


Robots are not a new phenomenon. We find them in manufacturing, and nearly everyone is aware of their role in outer space exploration and experimentation. What few people realize is that robots are rapidly emerging as a way to assist surgeons in the hospital operating room while contributing to better results for patients.
Robots are now capable of serving as an extension of the surgeon's hands in performing many cardiovascular, thoracic, urologic and general surgical procedures. The technology provides all the advantages of traditional open surgery coupled with the benefits of robotic precision, flexibility and control. The robot is literally an extension of the surgeon's hands, fingers, manipulations and movements.
As an added benefit, surgery is done through small incisions - or minimally invasively - so there's less blood loss, risk of infection, pain and scarring. For patients, hospital stays are shorter and recovery, including a return to normal activities, is faster. Now, gynecology is another field of surgery for which the robot's benefits are becoming increasingly evident.
For years, Washington Hospital's surgical department has housed the da Vinci robot manufactured by Sunnyvale-based Intuitive Surgical, Inc. The hospital's surgeons have utilized the robot as a tool, mainly for prostate, gall bladder and colon surgeries, with excellent results. Now, a local gynecologist is recognizing the potential benefits of robotic-assisted surgery for her patients.
"Currently, I use the minimally invasive laparoscopic approach for more than 90 percent of the hysterectomies I perform," reports Stacey Barrie, M.D., a local obstetrician and gynecologist on the Washington Hospital Medical Staff. "Now that I'm beginning to utilize the robot, I can see its effectiveness, especially for complicated procedures in hard-to-reach areas of the human body. In the future, robotics will play a role in about 50 percent of the hysterectomies I perform."
The robot includes a tiny camera and two robotic arms. To do a hysterectomy, or surgical removal of the uterus, the surgeon inserts the camera and arms into the woman's abdomen through tiny incisions that total no more then 1.5 inches in length.
"I sit at a console and, with the help of a video monitor and remote instrumentation, I have complete control in guiding the robot during surgery," says Dr. Barrie. "The 3-D camera allows me increased visualization inside the patient's body, and the robotic arms are so precise and flexible that they move in ways that aren't possible with manual surgical tools. I can guide the robot's arms to go around corners and tie knots with remarkable ease."
Better visualization also aids the surgeon because she has a finer view of each individual blood vessel and can identify bleeding during surgery and stop it quickly and efficiently. Therefore, the amount of blood lost during minimally invasive robotic gynecologic procedures is significantly less than with the traditional open approach.
The surgeon also realizes ergonomic benefits from robotic procedures. She sits at the console in a natural posture with shoulders relaxed. There is no need to go through some of the physical contortions that are often required during open gynecologic surgery.
"With robotic-assisted surgery, what pleases me and my patients most is the quality of their recovery," adds Dr. Barrie. "They are usually up and moving around within four hours after surgery, and they can return to work in two weeks. This is especially meaningful during today's poor economy when people want to stay productive and avoid being away from work too long."
Dr. Barrie sees the robot as a godsend for patients and physicians, but she cautions that it is not a cure-all for every type of gynecologic ailment.
"It's not right for every type of hysterectomy or complicated surgeries such as removal of a tumor that is encroaching on major blood vessels," she explains. "But, for many of my patients who need surgery, it is the ideal technology."
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Learn More About Robotic Assisted Surgery
Dr. Barrie will talk about robotic surgery at a Washington Hospital Health and Wellness seminar on Thursday, July 16. The free class will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditoriums located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. Call (800) 963-7070 to register.
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