Robot ‘surgeon’ now on call at Tri-City Medical Center

By José A. López
Oct 01, 2011

Tri-City Medical Center surgical patients getting treatment for diseases ranging from kidney disorders to thyroid cancer can now look forward to less painful surgeries and a faster recovery  — and they have a robot to thank.

Tri-City recently acquired the Dual Console da Vinci Si Robot Surgical System, a tool that gives doctors working at the medical center access to the most advanced robotic surgery system in San Diego County.

The $2.6 million-system allows surgeons to sit behind a console to direct three interactive, robotic arms that are more precise than the human hand and have a range of motion that is greater than the human wrist.

The system can be used for complex surgical procedures including bladder cancer, kidney disorders and thyroid cancer.

A high-definition, 3-D camera renders the minimally-invasive procedures on a screen. Tri-City Medical Center is the only center in the county to have the high-resolution display. Tri-City is also the only healthcare provider to have a da Vinci with two consoles. The two consoles can be used so that two surgeons can operate on a patient at once, though Tri-City notes that it will use the  second console  for training and practice via life-like surgery case simulations.

Tri-City’s system can also be integrated with other digital operating room technologies, and has a new an improved user interface.

Patients who experience a da Vinci procedure should experience less pain, shorter hospital stays, less risk of infection and a faster recovery.

“We are proud to bring the most advanced robotic surgical equipment to San Diego County,” said Tri-City CEO Larry Anderson. “We believe that the new features of the da Vinci Si System will help us provide the best possible outcomes and is proof of our commitment to provide our community access to the latest advancements in minimally invasive surgery.”

The Tri-City Hospital Foundation launched a $1.5 million capital campaign, the largest in its history, to pay for the system.


 Q-and-A with Dr. Carl Walker

Dr. Walker is board-certified urologist based in Oceanside and lives in Carlsbad. He has been performing da Vinci robotic surgeries since 2007.

Q. Could you provide a brief description of the technology and how it works?

The da Vinci Si Robot Surgical System is an exciting breakthrough in surgical technology and a great addition to Tri-City Medical Center. It has a console where I can sit to control the system’s three robotic arms and view the procedure through a high-definition, 3-D display. A camera on its main arm allows visualization within the body, while the robotic arms allow me to perform surgical procedures with greater precision than the human hand and more dexterity than my own wrists. Ultimately, these enhancements can make complex surgeries less invasive with many benefits to the patient. 

Q. What procedures can be performed with the machine?

The system benefits a number of programs at Tri-City Medical Center, particularly its Cancer, Cardiovascular and Women’s Health Centers. It’s often used for procedures relating to reproductive cancers or urinary and kidney disorders plus thyroid cancer. My specialty is urology, so I use it for prostate removal for cancer, and there are great applications for benign and malignant kidney conditions. Roughly three out of four prostate cancer surgeries in the U.S. today are performed using da Vinci surgery and it’s the number one surgical treatment option for women diagnosed with gynecologic cancer.

Q. What are the benefits of the da Vinci robot versus other surgical methods?

The system’s incredible precision and dexterity make complex surgeries less invasive, so patients heal more quickly and are exposed to reduced infection risk. Before robotic surgeries, my patients could expect to be hospitalized for three to four days for removal of the prostate, but now they can return to the comfort of their own home in one to two days and back to their routines much sooner, too. 

Q. I understand this is the first of its kind in the county. What does it do that others can’t?

It has two consoles so Tri-City’s system can be used for surgeries as well as training and simulations, and the display is high-definition 3-D technology. In addition, this system can be integrated with other digital technologies in the operating room.

Q. How many physicians will be able to utilize the robot?

I live in Carlsbad and my practice is based in Oceanside. I’m delighted to have this capability in my own backyard at Tri-City Medical Center. Our community now has the most advanced robotic surgery system in the county, so this will attract more surgeons to Tri-City. I can’t say how many surgeons will be using the system, but I can assure you that it will be used  on a regular basis.

Q. Are there any misconceptions about the machine?

While the system is robotic, it is entirely controlled by the surgeon. The machine has no mind of its own, so it is still the training and experience of the surgeon behind the controls that produces the quality outcomes for patients.

Q. What training do physicians go through to operate the machine?

One of the unique features of this system is its dual console. The primary console is used for surgeries, but the second console supports training. Surgeons can perform very lifelike simulated surgery, and because there are two consoles, a second surgeon can watch. The simulation capability is an important training tool, but it’s also something I can use to practice a complex procedure before actually performing it on a patient.

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