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Pediatric surgeon praises robot helpers

Nick Barber | April 8, 2010
The da Vinci Si surgical system lets doctors at Children's Hospital operate in 3D

"We'll be able to control a robot in another country, and this allows us to really spread our expertise," he said. "Remote surgery has taken place, but there is still a lot of technology that has to be made so that the movement is a little more seamless."

The operating room at CHB houses both the control console and the robot. The console is several feet away from the patient and can accommodate two surgeons. Typically one surgeon takes the lead and trains another on the technology.

"It's nice to have a console so that I can immediately take control if something goes wrong," Nguyen said about the system.

The hospital first purchased a robot in 2001 for about US$1.5 million to $2 million. In December 2009 it bought the current system for $2.4 million. The new unit allows for dual control, but is also smaller and faster to set up.

He said that CHB did a financial analysis to make sure that investing in the robot would be money well-spent. According to him, the hospital found that robotic surgery was 10 percent less expensive than open surgery.

"The reason for that is that it allowed patients to be out of the hospital a lot sooner, so a lot of the resources dedicated for patient post-op were able to be utilized for other patients," Nguyen said.

While he is excited about the benefits of robotic surgery there are still challenges, among them training surgeons and convincing people that this very expensive piece of equipment has an important effect on patient care.

And it is also a challenge to explain to parents that the robot is not operating on their child. "We have to tell them that the surgeon is still operating, this is just a piece of equipment," he said.


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