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Phoebe unveils new robotic surgical system

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

ALBANY -- A new age of surgery has arrived at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.

The da Vinci Robotic Surgical System was unveiled at a ceremony and demonstration in the hospital Thursday.

The system is a robotic platform designed to enable complex surgery using a minimally-invasive approach. The system is designed to scale, filter and seamlessly translate a surgeon's hand movements into more precise movements.

"This is another milestone in patient care, for Phoebe and the reinvestment into the community," Phoebe CEO Joel Wernick said.

"The medical staff keeps us on our toes, as they should."

The application for robotics crosses four specialties: urology, gynecology, cardiac and general surgery. Phoebe is currently using the system for urology and gynecology.

"We've been looking forward to this for a couple of years," said Dr. Michael Daugherty, head of the robotic surgical team. "We are always looking for ways to make surgeries better for patients.

"Things are definitely moving forward."

Officials say the technology allows for better visualization, dexterity and precision as well as greater patient comfort and quicker recovery.

"You can actually see better in surgeries," said Dr. Paul Smurda, a gynecologist who has so far performed eight procedures on the da Vinci system. "There are fewer incisions and patients are back to their normal routines a lot faster.

"By the time (physicians) get to use it with 10 patients, we will be pretty proficient with it."

Aside from Wernick, among the administrators enthusiastic about this system is Dr. Doug Patten, senior vice president of medical affairs at Phoebe -- who has also worked in the field of general surgery.

"As a 'recovering' surgeon, I'm not only excited and proud -- I'm jealous," he said. "I'm jealous because I won't get to use it.

"This expands access to care that just a few months ago people had to travel to Atlanta for."

Patten added that having the system in place might also help with physician recruitment.

"All specialties are adapting to this technology," he said.

The system includes four robotic arms providing a 360-degree range of motion and a three-dimensional image magnified 10 times. The instruments are able to operate through incisions of one to two centimeters.

At a hospital board meeting in April, officials said that capital costs for the da Vinci system would be $1.7 million. Start-up costs were expected to be $250,000, and proctoring and training days per physician would be $3,000 each.

"It's been several years of planning, and to see this come to fruition is rewarding," said Maureen Jackson, vice president of surgical services at Phoebe. "It is a real blessing."