New robotic system means shorter hospital stays, less pain

Published 6:36 pm Saturday, June 2, 2018

Patient care at Merit Health River Region has taken a big step forward thanks to a new piece of cutting edge technology.

The hospital introduced its new da Vinci Xi Surgical System, the top of the line surgical robot, in early April. The new system replaced the hospital’s earlier model surgical robot, and Dr. Christopher Clark, a general and thoracic surgeon at River Region, estimated they already have performed more than 100 surgeries with the new robot in the last two months.

“The arms are more narrow and it gives us better spacing so we can work in tighter spaces,” Clark said of the upgrades from the previous system to this one. “The boon goes up and down so it gives us more flexibility with the size of patients we are working on. All the way around, it is much better. The video quality is absolutely tremendous on this one. You can see the finest speck of anything.”

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The new robot is so precise, Clark said, he could use it to peel the skin off of a grape and then sew it back on. The precision of the robot and the ability to do much of the procedures internally using the arms drastically reduces the impact the surgeries have on patients, improves their outcomes and shortens their stays in the hospital.

“You imagine two or three poke holes the size an ink pen and that’s what they are, or you can imagine cutting from your pelvic bone to your breastbone,” Clark said. “That’s a big difference.”

Where as the national average for post-op stays in the hospital for colon surgery are 10 days, Clark said the average stay for patients at River Region is two to three days thanks to the da Vinci system.

“I had a patient that was 87 that I saw in the office today and I did surgery on him a couple weeks ago and took out the left side of his colon and hooked that back together,” Clark said. “The next day at 5 p.m. was the first time he had any pain medicine. So he didn’t have a large incision from his pelvis all the way to his breastbone and the surgery was rather fast and the patient required less pain medication.”

Clark said he performs about 50 percent of his surgeries using the robot including almost all of his surgeries in the chest and abdomen areas such as colon surgeries, gallbladder removals, lung cancer procedures and more.

Clark, who joined the staff at River Region late last year, said in all of 2017, they performed 167 robotic surgeries.

As of May 1 this year, they had already performed 187, he said.

“If we spend the money doing minimally invasive stuff, the patients improve and benefit from it as well as the overall resources of health care are able to be spread around better,” Clark said.

The benefits of the robot are not only for the patients either. Clark said by using the robot, he extends his career because where once he was standing bedside for hours performing surgery, he now sits at the robot and controls it remotely. The hospital also makes more money because they are paid based on the projected stay for patients and the robot allows them to go home sooner.

“If they say it takes 10 days to take out a colon, you get paid for 10 days of service,” Clark said. “If you get them out where they are able to go home and be happy in three to four days, you generate that much difference in the income.”

Currently, three surgeons at River Region use the da Vinci system, but Clark said they are working to add an urologist and two more Gynecology surgeons, which would enable them to perform the full rage of surgeries possible on the system at River Region.

“When people see the outcomes we can generate here, the successful outcomes, the short hospital stays, the minimum pain, it really increases people’s confidence in the local care,” Clark said, “They don’t need to go to Jackson for everything.”