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da Vinci robot assists RMC surgery
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Precise practitioner: Katie Lyle, a clinical representative with Intuitive Surgical, the company that makes the da Vinci, explains the capabilities of the machine. - photo by Michelle Kim

Rockdale Medical Center recently welcomed a new addition to its operating rooms — a robot named da Vinci.

The da Vinci robot assists doctors with minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery such as gynecological, and urological procedures with the help of tiny remote controlled pinchers operated remotely and a binocular 3D video system.

The machine, which cost around $1.7 million, is one of the few located outside the perimeter on the east side of metro Atlanta. Originally developed for military medical use, the da Vinci robot is designed to be intuitive for doctors to use, opening and closing as the doctor would open and close their hands and fingers.

Urological surgeon Dr. Burt Chen, one of four daVinci trained doctors on staff, performed the first surgery, a prostatectomy, with RMC’s new daVinci last Wednesday.

The patient, a 68 year old man, only stayed overnight in the hospital and was able to take his catheter out within a week, said Chen.

"Cancer outcomes, functional outcomes, they’re about as good as a good open prostatectomy," he said. "The big benefit is the small incisions, much less blood loss, and being out of the hospital and back to normal activities. Patients tend to bounce back a bit quicker," said Chen.

The cost to the patient and the hospital is about the same for robotic laparoscopic and traditional laparoscopic surgery.

"Really the benefit is for the patient" with the reduced healing time, Chen pointed out. "The hospital benefits because the patient doesn’t have to stay in the hospital quite as long."

Chen said most laparoscopic prostatectomy is done robotically now and doctors going through school and residency are often already exposed to working on the machine.

Surgical services director Debbie Stewart said she was initially skeptical about the benefit of the machine but now considers herself a convert.

Gynecologists Holly Imlach and Matthew Burrell are also trained on the da Vinci. RMC Administrator James Atkins said the hospital is hoping to recruit surgeons in other fields, such as cardiac and colorectal surgeries, to offer other procedures via the da Vinci.

The purchase of the daVinci was part of the capital investment by LifePoint Hospitals, along with a 64-slice CT Scanner and MRI machine, which will be coming in the spring to RMC’s new Outpatient Imaging Center.