New technology is vital to achieving continuous improvements in patient healthcare; so facilities like The Wellington Hospital – the largest independent hospital in the UK – view investing in state-of-the-art technology as a major priority.
Modern medicine reflects modern living; increasingly people are looking for more accurate, effective and efficient techniques which allow them to return to their normal lives as quickly as possible. This is especially evident in today’s professional workforces, who need to return to work rapidly, but without any compromise to their health. And as technology improves, expectations tend to escalate.
Not too long ago procedures for common heart conditions meant opening up a patient’s chest, requiring an eight to 10 day stay in hospital with a lengthy recuperation period. It often took months before the patient could return to work. Now, thanks to advances in technology, this can be done through four small incisions by the da Vinci robot; and patients can return to work in just a few weeks.
Robotic surgery is by no means a new concept. Indeed, Leonardo da Vinci invented the very first robot around 1495, while the first surgical robot, ‘Arthrobot’, was first developed and used in Canada in 1983. Since then, robots have been used in particular areas of surgery for the past two decades. However, the da Vinci Si is now the most advanced form of surgical robotic technology to date, offering the ability to perform a spectrum of specialist procedures for urological, gynaecological, cardiothoracic, ear, nose and throat, hepatic and general surgeries.
So what is the da Vinci Si robot? This surgical system is a robot which allows surgeons to undertake minimally invasive procedures, using more precise and delicate movements, via much smaller incisions. During a robotic operation the surgeon sits slightly away from the patient at a control console, with an assistant surgeon and a theatre nurse beside the patient throughout the entire procedure.
The procedure is carried out under general anaesthesia. A number of tiny openings (ports) are made – each around five to 12mm in length – and through these ports, a variety of different instruments can be introduced. These instruments have a greater range of movement than the human hand, allowing the surgeon to carry out an operation in smaller and more difficult-to-reach areas within the body. Through a magnified viewfinder, the surgeon examines three dimensional images sent to the console via the endoscopic camera inside the patient. The surgeon’s hands are then placed in ultra sensitive controls, allowing the robot’s arms to mimic, with extreme precision, the surgeon’s movements.
This advance in surgical technology means that major and routine operations can now be performed with better outcomes than ever before. Robotic surgery offers patients a variety of benefits including less risk of infection, a shorter stay in hospital, reduced trauma to the body and blood loss, effective control of disease, less scarring, faster recovery time, along with an improved and early return of continence and sexual function for men undergoing robotic prostatectomies. All patients also require less anaesthesia, and this reduces, accordingly, the risks associated with it during their treatments.
Surgeons are just as impressed with the robot’s capabilities as the patients. Consultant urologist at The Wellington Hospital, Mr Barry Maraj, praises the robot, saying, ‘the machine’s fourth arm means we can be much more precise in our surgery, and being three dimensional takes the guesswork out of depth of measurement.’ Consultant cardiothoracic surgeon, Mr Roberto Casula, firmly agrees, stating, ‘these new instruments can move in a way that my hands cannot. This is the new gold standard. With the acquisition of this machine we have the best technology, in the best hospital in the private sector.’
However, robots will not replace surgeons, at least not in our lifetimes, as these machines cannot operate without human engagement, but are reliant on the surgeon’s skill and experience. The robot is fitted with safety features meaning the surgeon is in complete control at all times, so if the surgeon moves from the console the robot immediately halts. It also detects and reduces any tremors in the surgeon’s hands which makes this a very safe option.
As technology develops and the use of robots within the healthcare sector is on the rise, patients can expect to recover quicker, with fewer complications, experiencing less pain and less disruption to their lives.
Could this be the future of healthcare?
Patient Case Study:
Cardiac patient, Robin Carter, outlines his experience of being operated on using the da Vinci Si robot at The Wellington Hospital
When Robin Carter discovered his angina was caused by a blocked coronary artery he anxiously researched potential treatments, and eventually discovered that his condition could be treated with the aid of a super robot – the da Vinci. Being treated in this way – through tiny incisions – meant he would experience less pain, faster recovery time and a shorter hospital stay than with conventional heart surgery.
‘I discovered the da Vinci robot, but found there were very few surgeons and hospitals – especially in London – who could do this,’ said Mr Carter. However, he ‘arrived at The Wellington on the Friday, underwent the operation and afterwards felt very little pain. [He] felt great and returned to work within two weeks.’
Mr Roberto Casula, his cardiac surgeon, said, ‘Until very recently this major life saving operation could only be performed by opening up the chest and using a bypass machine. Now we make just four little incisions and recovery takes a fraction of the time.’ He continues: ‘I would say there are several hundred patients a year who could have this operation and benefit from robotic surgery. We can treat patients who need more than one bypass without opening the chest and during the same session we could, for example, treat other arteries with a stent.’
‘Now I feel absolutely great and I would have no hesitation in telling other people to consider having the same operation using the da Vinci machine,’ enthuses a healthy and happy Robin Carter.