Robot-assisted surgery coming to Spectrum Health hospital

BIG RAPIDS — Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital now has its own da Vinci, though there aren’t any original, famous pieces from Leonardo hanging on the facility’s walls.

The hospital recently installed a da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery system, a technology that enables a surgeon to make cuts and perform operations, though their hands are never inside a patient’s body.

The da Vinci allows the surgeon to perform minimally-invasive surgeries, operating through a few small incisions, like traditional laparoscopy, instead of a large open incision. Rather than standing beside the operating table, the surgeon is positioned at a console in the operating room and directs the da Vinci’s multiple mechanical arms while looking at a high definition, 3D image of the surgical site.

Dr. Mark Haan, a general surgeon who will utilize the technology, is excited to be able to use the da Vinci, though he wasn’t always sold on the idea, at least in his area of surgery.

“When they first came to me about four years ago, I didn’t think this had any applications in general surgery whatsoever,” Haan said, noting the system was first mostly used for gynecological surgery, as well as urology and proctology.

Haan continued researching and learning more about the system’s capabilities, and as the years went on and technology advanced, it became apparent there was place for the technology in general surgery.

Haan also started to see the huge benefits for patients, he explained.

“They’re back to work sooner, most don’t need narcotic pain meds after the surgery, it’s less invasive, the dissection is a lot more meticulous and there’s less blood loss in the patient during surgery, so basically it’s a win-win for the patient,” Haan said. “There’s also a decrease in infection rates following the surgery than if we had to do open, invasive surgery on the patient.”

Haan is scheduled to begin using the da Vinci system the week of Aug. 7, initially performing hernia and gall bladder operations. Soon gynecological surgeries, such as hysterectomies, will be introduced and performed by Dr. Jack Park.

Park, an obstetrician/gynecologist, was the first physician at the hospital to advocate for obtaining the da Vinci system.

One huge bonus for surgeons is the range of motion and ability of the robotic arms to maneuver, Park said. A surgeon’s wrist can only turn so far.

“Imagine having only your fingers to do surgery and now you have your whole hand to do surgery — that’s basically what it is,” he said. “It’s like having chopsticks to do dissections versus a whole hand that rotates.”

Surgeons can adjust the settings and grade the movement, so if surgeon makes a one-inch cut, it could be programmed so the robot only cuts half an inch, Haan said.

“The movements aren’t as aggressive as they are outside because you can fine-tune that as well,” he said.

To prepare to use the da Vinci system, the surgeons and members of their team undergo dozens of hours of training. Some of the training includes simulations, as well as operating on a pig to practice suturing and stapling on live tissue, Haan said.

While the thought of a power outage or glitch may make people leery of the going under a robot-assisted knife, Haan said the machine has multiple fail safes for those situations.

“It is constantly analyzing the instruments and equipment, so if something happens, the robot locks up and an error message is received, making it so the surgeon cannot return to surgery until the issue is figured out,” he said.

If the problem cannot be figured out on-site, diagnostic services are available 24/7 through the manufacturer.

If a person is not a candidate for the robot-assisted surgery, the surgeons will still perform the hands-on version of the same procedure, Haan said. Whether the da Vinci is used or not has no impact on the cost of the operation.

“The charge is the same, there’s no additional cost,” he said. “We wouldn’t do it if we had to charge the patients more.”

On Sept. 28, Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital will host a community open house for the public to see the da Vinci and learn more about the addition to the hospital.