BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Eastern Maine Medical Center is expecting to see a growing number of surgeons come to its facility to learn how to perform robotic surgeries. Surgeons are using robotic equipment for a number of procedures including weight loss surgery. We were invited to watch the hospitals top surgeon on the machine perform a weight loss or bariatric surgery Thursday. Dr. Michelle Toder was using a piece of equipment called the Da Vinci Surgical System, controlling robotic arms using a set of hand controls while sitting at a console and looking at a High Definitition three dimensional monitor.
"When we make those little incisions and put instruments in the patient, the standard laproscopic instruments are one view camera which gives you a two dimensional image and straight instruments that can pinch or rotate but we lose our wrists. we lose our fingers and our 3 dimensional depth perception," explained Dr. Toder.
She has performed nearly one thousand of EMMC's 2500 robotic surgery procedures. She says the technology benefits patients in the form of shorter recovery times, and fewer complications. She says robotic surgery takes less of a toll on surgeons too.
"We get numb thumbs they are called laproscopy thumbs ...and lots of orthopaedic issues from your shoulders wrists knees and ankles from standing in these awkward posititons."
Less wear and tear on surgeons means they can do more procedures, helping meet demand wihtout the hospiutal having to hire more surgeons, however Robotic Surgery is not without skeptics. Dr. Martin Makary of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and author of a study on robot assisted surgery says hospitals and manufacturers often overstate the benefits to patients, with little in the way of controlled studies to back up claims. He says the costs of the equipment are huge yet benefits for patients aren't clear when comparing robotic and laproscopic surgery.
"The data does not support a benefit in the clinical outcome of patients with robotic surgery over standard surgery," explained Dr. Makary.
Dr. Toder says there is a study published this summer that she was involved with involving 1100 patients that did show obvious benefits for patients. While the machine comes with a hefty price tag, $1.75 million dollars, she says patients don't see costs passed on to them or insurers, because this surgery cuts down on complications, length of stay, and lost time at work for patients. The manufacturer of the equipment, Intuitive Surgery, did designate EMMC as an epicenter, meaning it is a destination hospital for surgeons interested in learning how to perform robotic bariatric surgery.