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Patients benefit from robotic "hands" in surgery

When patients hear the term “robotic surgery,” they often have questions for their surgeon. One of the most common: who actually controls the surgery? “It’s always funny to me when patients ask, ‘Are you actually doing the operation or does the robot do the operation?’” says Nikhil Shah, D.O., a urologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. “The da Vinci robot is just a tool, almost like my scalpel.”

Surgeons completely control the robot, which cannot move independently or autonomously. The robot is a tool that allows for greater range of motion and better visibility, while still working through the small incision traditionally used in laparoscopy. “Robotic surgery is minimally invasive surgery,” says John McBroom, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Piedmont Atlanta. “Minimally invasive surgery involves using laparoscopy. The difference with the robot versus usual laparoscopy is the tool.”

Improved surgical outcomes

“One of the benefits of the robot is that it allows the extension of the surgeon’s hands within a patient’s abdominal or thoracic cavity, or wherever the surgeon is working,” says Harrison Pollinger, D.O., a multi-organ transplant surgeon at Piedmont Atlanta. “It has no way of anticipating the steps of the surgery and is not hooked up to a computer program. The robot actually mimics what the surgeon is doing.”

Not only does it mimic the surgeon’s movements with a greater range of motion, it also gives them a better view of the surgery, thanks to a high definition, three-dimensional camera. “One of the greatest issues that we have in surgery is our ability to see tissues, organs and glands,” says Dr. Shah.

“The robotic camera is much more advanced than current optics in regular laparoscopic surgery,” adds Dr. Pollinger. “The other problem is we use big mitts hands to operate inside patients,” says Dr. Shah. “That can disturb tissue and cause surrounding trauma.” The robot’s instruments are miniature and wristed, meaning they mimic the full rotation of the wrist and fingers, while causing less trauma to the patient.

“The benefits to the patient are pretty profound,” says Dr. Shah. “When we’re operating with the wristed instruments and seeing in 3D, we cause a lot less damage to the surrounding tissue, which means less blood loss, less injury to muscle and blood vessels, less pain, faster recovery and smaller incisions.”

Piedmont’s robotic surgery program

Dr. McBroom says Piedmont is unique because of its diverse roster of robotic surgeons. “At most places in the U.S., if they have a robotic program, it is [only] gynecology and urology,” he explains. “Here, there is a plethora of surgeons for a wide variety of specialties that are experienced with robotic surgery.”

Piedmont offers the following services within its robotic surgery program:

  • Colorectal surgery
  • General surgery
  • Gynecologic surgery
  • Transplant surgery
  • Urological surgery

Dr. Shah says Piedmont has some of the most experienced, well-trained robotic surgeons in the country. “Coming to Piedmont for robotic surgery simply makes sense,” says Dr. Shah.

“We have an expert-trained staff, from the nurses to the technicians; our surgeons are world-class trained and have expertise not only in robotics, but they’ve gone through extensive training in robotics and have a large volume experience. That’s something every patient needs to look for when they’re finding a surgeon.”

Dr. Pollinger expects robotic technology to continue to improve.

“Thanks to the advances in the technology in the system we use today, it’s amazing what the surgeon can do,” he says. “It’s only going to get better.”

For more information, visit Piedmont Robotic Surgery.

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