As we look towards the future of thoracic surgery, at emerging technologies and procedures – one technology stands apart from the rest: robot-assisted surgery. Love it or hate it – all thoracic surgeons have heard of it. So you can imagine my excitement this week when I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to one of the representatives of Intuitive Surgical, the makers of the best-known robotic surgery device, the da Vinci robot.
William ‘Al’ Serpa sat down with me to discuss robotic technology and the growing use of robotic technology in thoracic surgery. While the da Vinci robot is used fairly frequently in urological and gynecological surgery, it is just now making inroads into other specialties. The robot, which costs in excess of one million dollars, is more than a financial investment; it is an investment into the future of modern surgery – and Intuitive Surgical understands this. The company maintains a long term mentoring relationship with surgeons trained on the da Vinci, and they take the training process seriously.
Interested surgeons of facilities with da Vinci equipment participate in multiple in-services, high-level on-site observations, and on-line training modules prior to beginning actual training on the robot in a 1 to 2 day skills lab. After completing this initial training, surgeons are mentored through several cases, increasing in complexity as they become more familiar with the robot.
Mr. Serpa reports that most surgeons demonstrate surgical proficiency with the da Vinci system after completing about twenty cases. This is also the minimal volume of annual cases required to be listed on the da Vinci website as a specialty provider.
Mr. Serpa and I discussed the perceptions that many physicians have of the difficulty of the learning curve for robotic surgery. We discussed multiple published reports that robotic surgery lengthens case times, and the realities behind robotic surgery. “Actually, after surgeons become familiar with using the robot, it doesn’t take more than a moment to re-position it.” That’s sounds similar to what several previous surgeons [using the robot] have reported – so I guess the only way to find it is to see for myself.
Hopefully, my next post about the da Vinci robot will come to you from the OR.
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History of Robotic Surgery – link to website