At UIHC, surgery goes robotic


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Seated at a console in the operation room, a surgeon peers into the three-dimensional, high definition view of the body cavity provided by a dual camera.

And without ever laying a finger on the patient’s body, he carefully maneuvers numerous robotic arms through the procedure.

Robotic surgery might sound like science fiction, but it’s performed on a routine basis at the UI Hospitals and Clinics. And two UIHC doctors who regularly use the robotic device said it’s becoming a more popular option with both patients and those training in medicine.

“Having the robot allows us to offer our patients the best care using the state-of-the-art technology,” said Fadi Joudi, a UI assistant professor of urology.

The da Vinci Surgical System is the tool of choice at UIHC. And though it comes with a hefty price tag — about $3.1 million for two robots — surgeons say it brings many benefits over traditional surgery.

Joudi said robotics is is laparoscopic, or minimally invasive, surgery enhanced.

“Looking into the console is like seeing a movie in 3D, like Avatar,” he said.

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UIHC officials bought their first robot in 2002 for $1.3 million. In 2007, the second generation arrived, costing around $1.8 million, said Joudi and David Bender, a UI clinical assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology. These additions make the UIHC one of more than 800 medical centers worldwide that have implemented the robots.

Robotic surgeries are commonplace at UIHC, and Joudi and Bender both have ample experience. Joudi performed 72 of the 110 robotic procedures conducted in urology in 2009.

In the obstetrics/gynecology department, 155 robotic surgeries took place in 2009 — of those, Bender conducted 93.

Reinhard Beichel, a UI assistant professor of electrical/computer engineering, believes in the benefits provided by robotic surgery.

“The nice thing is that it can translate the movement of your hand in different ways,” he said.

The robot also means lower costs for the UIHC, he said.

Though the robot may be expensive to purchase, robotic surgery minimizes patient recovery time and therefore allows patients to go home sooner, Beichel said.

Jeff Cave underwent surgery to treat prostate cancer with the da Vinci on Aug. 28, 2008. He said he chose the robotic surgical method because it was the quickest treatment for his particular condition.

Cave said factors such as less blood loss and a shorter healing time also influenced his decision.

“I had the best experience and the best results you could expect,” Cave said, and he would “absolutely” recommend robotic surgery to other patients.

“We have similar findings where we have significantly less blood loss, significantly less recovery time, and significantly less pain,” Bender said.

The da Vinci also serves as a learning tool for medical students, he said, and several are training on the machine.

UIHC departments that use the surgical robot are looking to create a formal skills lab where they can offer full-time teaching experience in the near future, Bender said.

“We here want to continue to incorporate this like any other tool we use in our ORs,” he said.

The future use of tools such as the da Vinci appears promising, the doctors agreed.

“I would venture to guess that within the next five years, residents will be asked if they have robotic experience, it has become that ubiquitous,” Bender said.

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