Surgical robots are common enough today that doctors at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle didn’t require extra training when the hospital upgraded its surgical robotics system in December.
But general surgeon Dr. Brad Beckham said the difference between Baptist’s old surgical robot and the new da Vinci XI — which features an updated 3-D camera and laser system — is “night and day.”
“We thought the old camera was a great camera when we had it, because it was light-years better than what came before that one,” Beckham said. “This is, again, much better. This one literally with 3-D vision feels like you’ve stuck your head inside the human body, and you’re looking around like you were really there. You can’t, almost, tell the difference between what you see with your eyes and what you see with the camera.”
The $1.49 million investment should help Beckham and nine other Baptist surgeons perform minimally invasive surgeries and cut down on patient recovery time by weeks.
Baptist first obtained robotic surgical technology in 2007 and was one of the first hospitals in the North Mississippi/West Alabama area to do so, Beckham said. Robotic surgical equipment is typically good for about 15 years, so Baptist was due the upgrade.
The robot’s camera system shows the surgeon the inside of the body, and its arms mimic the surgeon’s hand motions, allowing the surgeon to perform surgical procedures without actually having his or her hands inside the body, Beckham said. The robotic arms have greater mobility and can move in much more precise, less invasive ways.
“Old traditional surgery was making a big incision up and down, from the top of the belly to the bottom of the belly,” Beckham said. “This would make three to four little poke holes that are half an inch in size or smaller, and our instruments go through those little holes. … I sit at the (robot’s) control center, called the console, that exactly perfectly mimics my hand motions, but it scales them down into micro movements. So for instance, for every three inches my hands move, it only moves one inch. So it allows me to make big easy movements with my hands, and it makes very, very small movements, but they’re much more precise.”
This technique makes the actual surgery take a little longer, Beckham said, but it cuts down on blood loss and allows for much faster patient recovery time. For example, his colon cancer patients typically spend two or three days in the hospital following robotic surgery, whereas in the “old days” of open surgery, they may be in the hospital up to 10 days, Beckham said. His hernia patients always go home the day of their surgery, but now they can go back to work after two weeks, instead of waiting six to eight weeks. And the incisions the robot makes in the belly button for gallbladder operations are so small that people can’t even tell those patients have had surgery, he said.
The new robot also has updated laser technology that uses a special dye enabling doctors to easily see anatomic structures like blood vessels. That allows surgeons to perform more complex procedures than they could before, Beckham said.
With the new system, the hospital is on track to perform 1,000 robotic surgeries in 2021, Director of Perioperative Services Lisa Jeffcoat said in a prepared statement.
Hospital administrator and CEO Paul Cade said the investment has been well worth it.
“Over the years, we have seen firsthand the benefits to our patients that come with minimally invasive surgery including the need for less pain medication, smaller incisions leading to less scarring, less blood loss, fewer complications, and a faster recovery time,” Cade said in an email to The Dispatch. “… By upgrading this technology, we are setting a new standard for minimally invasive care for our patients and the community. It is an investment we are proud to make.”