Option: robotic surgery or human surgeon

BANGOR, Maine(NEWS CENTER) -- When you need surgery, don't you hope for the best surgeon? You want to know the person taking that scalpel and cutting you open is the best trained surgeon with the steadiest hands anyone has ever seen. Or would you prefer a robot?

In March, Eastern Maine Medical Center reached a surgical milestone by performing the state's first single-incision hysterectomy with the help of a robot. Robotic equipment is being used for a number of procedures including weight loss surgery. Believers said there are significant benefits by using robots on patients. But there are hesitant believers who said they're leery about this new computer-assisted technology.

Medical Director of surgical weight loss program of EMMC, Dr. Michelle Toder has performed a little over one thousand seven hundred of EMMC's robotic surgery procedures.

"You can see nerves and blood vessels more easily than standard laparoscopy or even an open procedure. It gives you less trauma to the tissue because you know you have hands in there that can bend around structures that are pretty much round in your belly."

The slightest movements of Dr. Michelle Toder's hands while looking into a video-game-like console is controlling the instruments used to perform surgery. Dr. Toder said the entire time she's in control; her head is in the consult looking at a high definition magnified view and the robot mimics her actions. Once she takes her head out of the area view the robot won't move.

But Dr. Paul Danielson the Chief of division of pediatric surgery at All Children's Hospital of Johns Hopkins Medicine, says there are limitations.

"Robotic technology has not evolved haptic feedback yet. So when I'm using a robot, I'm squeezing using the controls I don't get any feedback into my fingertips of exactly how much pressure I'm exerting on the tissues inside the body.

Dr. Danielson also believes we are a long way from getting equipment that can outdo a surgeon's hands operating on you.

"I do believe that over the next decade or two as the technology evolves that more and more procedure will have been done robotically. At present, however there is only a few procedures that have been shown to be done as effectively or better with a robot than with traditional techniques."

Dr. Toder said the the robot will help her extend her career because it has eased the stress and pressure on her hands during surgery.

"Robots very best feature is it's ability to sew. Like you had hands in the patient- you can sew front hand, back hand upside down, right or left hand. It's amazing."

Dr. Toder said she works closely with Intuitive Surgical designs the company on the frontier of this technology by giving them feedback on the equipment. Now, this technology comes with a robust cost. Ranging from 1 .75 million dollars to 2.25 million dollars depending on what equipment you buy. Most importantly both doctors agree, that when you need surgery you should do some shopping. Find the surgeon who has the best outcomes with the procedure you need whether that surgery is performed robotically or traditionally.


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