Doctor Shares Experience with New da Vinci Surgical Robot

Doctor Shares Experience with New da Vinci Surgical Robot

Doctors at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County have started using the da Vinci robot at the hospital. SweetwaterNOW photo by Stephanie Thompson

ROCK SPRINGS — For Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County (MHSC) general surgeon Dr. Brianne Crofts, the new da Vinci surgical robot is something she’s excited about and thinks others will be as well.

The da Vinci robot was purchased by the MHSC Board of Trustees in March of 2023 for $2.54 million. When the robot arrived, staff didn’t waste time starting trainings so they would be ready to use it for procedures.

So far, Dr. Crofts has completed two procedures with the robot and is scheduled to complete four more. She said the da Vinci robot is like an extension of the laparoscopy. “A lot of a surgeon’s technical skills in being able to do laparoscopy literally transitions over to the use of the da Vinci robot. The real piece of it is for the surgeon and the surgical team to learn the mechanics of the machine,” Dr. Crofts said.

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In order to do the surgery, the robot and its arms are placed in a specific location near the patient and once the robot and the tools needed to perform the surgery are ready, the surgeon will then conduct the surgery using the robot. The da Vinci robot has articulating wrists, which act as mini hands that are within the abdomen without the need for a large incision. With a traditional laparoscopy, Dr. Crofts described it as completing the procedure with chopsticks. So it is a big difference and it’s better for the surgeon and patient, she said.

Prior to using the robot, Dr. Crofts participated in trainings to learn the mechanics of the robot. Once the doctors have completed the trainings required to use the machine, they will use it when they need it.

“The thing with the robot is it gives you 3D vision,” Dr. Crofts said. “When you are doing a laparoscopy, you are seeing in 2D vision. You see stuff you can’t see with a microscope. It’s amazing the view you can get from it.”

Part of the laparoscopy procedure includes suturing, which is really difficult because in tradition surgery is once again like using chopsticks to complete the task, Dr. Crofts said. With the robot, suturing is easy because it’s like the doctor is using their hands and sewing like they would if they were standing outside of the person.

“I do think there is an element of patient pain improvement too,” Dr. Crofts said.

She said this would be especially true for patients who are needing a hernia surgery because the suturing requires muscle to be sewn, which hurts. Dr. Crofts said the pain in this procedure will be minimized because the robot allows for such precision suturing that the doctor won’t need to sew as much muscle. The robot will also allow for a quicker recovery time for patients because the procedures will be less invasive.

Dr. Crofts explained the view the da Vinci robot provides the doctor is almost like someone shrunk the doctor and it’s like the doctor is inside of the person.

For the hospital, Dr. Crofts said the robot will be used for gallbladder removal, hernias, and laparoscopies. “Obviously, at some point in time, this will be expanded to other specialties,” she said. However, this will take time because it’s a new tool that doctors need to be trained or retrained on.

“We’re bringing in a new tool that people need to understand how to use. We want the patients to be safe,” Dr. Crofts said. “Once we have the ability to use that instrument safely, then we are going to onboard the other specialties.”

Dr. Crofts went on to say that the majority of the doctors at the hospital already had been trained on a da Vinci robot, but the hospital did not have one until now. So they are familiar with the robot and how to use it.

“Now they will be able to provide some other services that may have been going outside of the community in order for those patients to stay here,” Dr. Crofts said. “I do think it opens up service lines for other specialties.”

It’s not just the surgeons who need training on the robot however, Dr. Crofts said, as the hospital bed-side assists need to know how to change out the tools during the surgery. Instead of handing a surgeon their tools, they will be changing them on the robot.

“Everybody looks at that machine and they are scared of it, but it’s not scary, it’s way cool,” Dr. Crofts said.

Dr. Crofts who said she was a skeptic is now a believer after training and successfully using the robot. She wanted to make it clear that the surgeon is always in control of the robot and uses it like they would their own hands. While the machine is called a robot, which is scary to some patients, it’s really just another tool for surgeons to use.

“I’m still in control of that. There’s no machine making decisions. It’s me making the decisions. It’s me using my skills and my knowledge to be able to operate the machine,” Dr. Crofts said. “You still have to have a human to man something like this.”

She said this is something patients will benefit from. As time passes, Dr. Crofts envisions more procedures taking place utilizing the robot.