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Tech upgrade at ANMC aims to reduce hospital stays

Published: Apr. 3, 2021 at 7:30 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska Native Medical Center is now home to a da Vinci robotic surgical assistant. With the new tool in hand, surgeons can now operate with machinelike precision that turns into less time spent at the hospital for recovering patients.

It’s more of a high-tech tool than an actual robot, said ANMC urologist Dr. Sophie Spencer. It’s used to assist in laparoscopic procedures.

“It’s essentially surgery that’s performed through small incisions with straight stick instruments, typically,” Spencer said.

In essence, the machine allows doctors to make a tiny cut into a patient to do the procedure instead of a large cut to expose the parts of the body they need to do work on.

The four-armed machine comes into play by giving the doctor the ability to have far more wrist movement, additional hands, and a high powered camera that can show the doctors where they’re cutting. Spencer said many procedures that she does as a urologist depended only on feel before getting the new machine.

“The pelvis is a deep, dark, far away place that’s hard to access and hard to see,” she said.

The doctor performing the surgery with the robot is in the operating room, but several feet away from the patient. Dr. Sheridan Morgan, a colorectal surgeon at ANMC, provided a demonstration and clarified that there is always another doctor standing bedside from the patient, kind of like a spotter.

Because the machine makes doing complex surgeries possible through smaller cuts and incisions, the patient doesn’t have to stay in the hospital as long.

“So it can decrease the length of time in recovery needed at the hospital from a week to 10 days, to three or four days. Or even as short as two days,” Morgan said.

He added that because the cuts are smaller, there’s a smaller chance of infection, which means there’s less chance of complications for the patient. Morgan also said the combined precision, smaller cuts, and lowered risk of infection do result in lower mortality rates in the operating room.

For Alaskans, time is precious, especially in the summer. Spencer said they oftentimes will have patients that refuse surgery during the summer because they have so much going on.

The da Vinci technology has been around for a while, and ANMC’s robot is not the first in the state. However, because the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium serves so many more people from rural Alaskan villages, Spencer said the robot will get them out of Anchorage and back to taking advantage of the warm weather faster.

“The recovery in general is quicker,” Spencer said. “I’m able to remove catheters from their bladder about a week or so earlier than I would have otherwise. And for patients that are from the village, that’s two weeks with a catheter that I have to keep them in Anchorage. I can’t let them go home. If I’m getting that out a week earlier, that means they’re actually getting home a week earlier, which is a huge deal.”

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