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How Robotic-Assisted Surgery is Changing Medicine

Robots, once the invention of sci-fi movies and space programs, can now be found helping humans from the home to the hospital in the most wide-ranging ways. And while computerized personal assistants are making it easier to play your favorite song or refill toilet paper, robotic assisted surgery is expanding the capabilities of surgery – and changing the face of medicine at the same time.

Robotic assisted surgery, such as the da Vinci Xi Surgical System, expands surgeons’ capabilities to perform minimally invasive surgery for even the most complicated scenarios. Surgeons sit at a nearby console to view 3D images of the surgical site and manipulate the arms of the robotic instruments inside the body. The tiny robotic arms allow surgeons to make smaller incisions with greater precision, resulting in less pain and decreased blood loss for the patient. The mechanical wrists of the robot mimic the movements of the human wrist, sans the natural hand tremor.

Additionally, the da Vinci Xi provides more ergonomic support, giving the surgeon stability, dexterity and proper posture and positioning for lengthy procedures. The hydraulic instruments, thin robotic arms and joints, and rotating operating table offer a greater range of motion and greater operative reach.

And access to the technology is already here: Robotic assisted surgery is taking place in operating rooms like those at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. Thoracic surgeons, in particular, see the impact every day.

“We’re offering our patients the latest technology and state-of-the-art healthcare with the da Vinci Xi,” says Robert B. Love, MD, FACS, FRCS (London), a thoracic surgeon who has been performing robotic surgery since 2006.

The da Vinci Xi provides highly defined 3D images, so the view of the surgical site is close-up and highly magnified. For example, in a thoracic procedure, which typically encompasses the lungs, heart and chest, a mass may be located under the patient’s ribs. Using the da Vinci Xi robot, the surgeon can find the target area with more clarity in less time.

Needless to say, robotic technology is changing how patients and surgeons alike experience surgery. With the development of robotic technology, surgeons can offer minimally invasive procedures in place of certain “open procedures,” which require one very large incision at least four to eight inches and increase the risk of side effects. In comparison, minimally invasive surgery typically involves a few smaller incisions.

“There are increased medical risks for patients who have open procedures,” says Dr. Love. “With the da Vinci Xi, we can minimize post-operative pain and reduce the patient’s recovery time and hospital stay.”

Dr. Love anticipates increased use of the da Vinci Xi across a variety of procedures at Central DuPage Hospital, as well as the other hospitals within Northwestern Medicine that also have robotic surgery programs.

So while we’re most likely light years away from a robot takeover of the universe, these automated gadgets are helping to shape the future of medicine as we know it, for a better experience and speedy recovery.

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