New robot aids doctors

The GW Hospital is using a new instrument to assist doctors with complex surgeries.

The da Vinci Surgical System is a large spider-like contraption consisting of maneuverable arms that allows surgeons to more accurately perform gynecological, heart and prostate surgery through the operation of hand and foot controls. The machine, which was aquired in the last few months, is used for procedures that involve complex maneuvers, sensitive tissues or internal sewing.

Using a 3-D camera mounted on one of the system’s four arms, doctors can better judge the location of nerves, tissues and organs in a patient’s body.

Michael Manyak, a University professor who chairs the hospital’s urology department, said GW is one of the few hospitals in the nation that uses the da Vinci system.

“George Washington Hospital is the first site in the metropolitan Washington area to have this technology, outside of the military,” Manyak said.

Manyak said the machine puts GW at the forefront of innovative surgical procedures. “It provides patients with the latest and greatest technology,” he said.

Jason Engel, who uses the machine to perform urology operations, said the hospital purchased the da Vinci system because it wanted to “have kind of the best cutting edge technology.” Soon, all hospitals will need a da Vinci-like machine in order to stay competitive, he added.

Hospital officials put the da Vinci’s price tag at more than $1 million.

“As a teaching hospital, we believe that advanced technology allows us to attract and train some of the top surgeons in the area,” said Maureen Ryan, the hospital’s communications manager.

The da Vinci’s maneuverable arms, 3-D camera and other features that include correctional software to eliminate a doctor’s shaking translate into huge benefits for patients, Engel said. According to a press release, the machine can reduce time in surgery by three hours as well as dramatically decrease recovery time.

Engel praised the benefits of the 3-D camera, saying that a 2-D camera makes it impossible to judge the position of body parts. He also said he prefers the 360-degree maneuverability of the da Vinci laparoscopes, which are instruments used to perform internal surgeries.

Traditional laparoscopes only open and close like scissors, said Engel, while the da Vinci’s arms can perform complex maneuvers such as sewing stitches.

“That allows me to do newer, complex operations,” he said.

Manyak said he has begun to talk with his students about the machine, but that he has yet to incorporate it into his curriculum.

“It’s something that people are free to come and see in action,” he said.

“Everybody’s fascinated by it,” he said, “patients, surgeons, students … it’s fascinating technology.”

Engel said he has had to dispel the fears of some patients who are apprehensive about a machine-performed surgery. Once Engel explains to the patients that he will be controlling the machine, they feel a lot better, he said.

“(Their) imagery is usually that the robot is going to walk up and do the surgery,” Engel said. “They’re usually scared when you tell them about the robot.”

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