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Hospital celebrates its 2,000th robotic surgery procedure
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The da Vinci Surgical System has pedals that help doctors perform delicate and complex operations with precision. - photo by Erin O. Smith

da Vinci demonstration

What: Test Drive the da Vinci Surgical System robot
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today
Where: North Patient Tower Hall of Honor, Northeast Georgia Medical Center, 743 Spring St. NE, Gainesville
How much: Free
More info: Call 770-219-9000, www.nghs.com

Some milestones come with age — others with the advent of technology.

Northeast Georgia Medical Center recently celebrated a milestone with the help of new technology, when surgeons performed the hospital’s 2,000th procedure using the da Vinci Surgical System.

The da Vinci Surgical System is an apparatus of robotic wristed instruments and a high-resolution 3-D camera which, under the control of a surgeon, can perform a variety of procedures surgeons previously did by hand.

But for the 15 surgeons at NGMC who are certified to perform surgery with the da Vinci Surgical System, science fiction is just another day at the office.

“The robot is really good at really complex, specific situations,” said NGMC’s Dr. Andrew Green. 

As a gynecological oncologist, Green has performed radical hysterectomies, endometrial cancer surgery and complex benign surgery, all using the da Vinci system. To date, the hospital has performed successful robotic procedures in the areas of gynecological oncology, urology, colorectal and bariatric surgery, gynecology and general surgical procedures.

The same surgeries are more commonly performed via laparoscopy, by creating small incisions through which cameras and instruments may be inserted into a patient to perform the operation.

In many cases, the da Vinci Surgical robot is an improvement over laparoscopic methods, because it gives the surgeon a greater range of movement and visibility than rigid laparoscopic tools allow.

“If you look at a regular laparoscopic instrument, it’s like operating with a straight stick or a golf club shaft,” Green said. “The (da Vinci) robot has a wrist action on the end, much like (a human’s) wrist. It allows us to get into small, tight spaces much more delicately.”

The da Vinci Surgical System also allows surgeons to magnify areas up to 10 times, as opposed to the threefold magnification laparoscopic tools allow.

“We can see a lot more fine detail,” Green said. “(The robot) makes it more precise.”

While the robot isn’t employed for basic procedures, it’s a “very useful tool” when it comes to a specific kind of surgery.

“The analogy I use with medical students is taking the robot for a basic surgery is kind of like taking a Ferrari to get a gallon of milk — it’ll get the job done but it’s a bit of overkill, but sometimes you need to go to the racetrack,” Green said.

Benefits to patients include decreased blood loss, minimal scarring and shorter recovery times.

While some patients do occasionally have trepidation about going under the robotic knife, most fears are quickly allayed once they learn the surgeon, not the robot, is entirely in control.

“Some patients have the impression that you put the patient on a table and push a button and the robot does the surgery,” Green said. “That’s not true. The way I describe it to my children is it’s kind of like the ultimate video game. I control everything.”

In celebration of the accomplishment, NGMC today will offer interested members of the community the opportunity to “test drive” the da Vinci robot.

A group from North Hall High School’s STEM Academy is already planning on making the trip, during which students will actually pilot the robot to perform tasks such as opening Jolly Rancher candies.

“It’s one thing to tell people about the advantages of the robot, but being able to put your hands on it and experience the three-dimensional visualization and extreme precision will make you realize how fortunate we are to have such an advanced level of care here at NGMC,” said Kristin Grace, a public relations specialist at the hospital. 

While it’s the robotic component that typically catches the eye, it’s the human element at NGMC that made having done 2,000 procedures possible.

“(NGMC is) unique in the new technology we’re getting, but I think the thing we’re really unique in is the efficiency of the staff and the limited number of machines we do,” Green said. “I think it’s really the nursing staff and how efficient they are in conjunction with the physicians.”

For more information, call 770-219-9000 or visit www.nghs.com.

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