Practitioners Trained in Robotics Provide More Value to Surgeons

By Mohamed Hegazy, MD & John Torres, PA-C

Robotically-assisted surgery was developed to overcome the limitations of pre-existing minimally-invasive surgical procedures and to enhance the capabilities of surgeons’ performances. As the use of robotics has grown, it has changed the roles of the surgical staff supporting these procedures.

The use of robotics in general surgery procedures increased from 1.8 percent to 15.1 percent between January 2012 and June 2018, according to a study cited in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

At AP Health, we saw the growth in robotics early on and created a program around it, training our already-diverse practitioners to use these tools so they could serve as surgical assistants in these procedures.

When AP Health thought about a robotics-training program, we saw it not as specialty, but as a program to serve specialties. You have to start with highly trained practitioners in a given specialty before they can become a surgical first assistant in a robotic surgery. We now provide robotics-trained surgical first assistants in various surgical specialties, including general surgery, cardiothoracic surgery, urology, GYN and nephrology.

Robust Training is Key

When AP Health first embraced robotics in 2015, we implemented a robust training program. In addition to online training, we send our practitioners to Intuitive, the maker of the da Vinci surgical system’s lab, for hands-on training. This is important because it is the surgical assistant that is scrubbed in, docking the robot, trading out all the instruments and keeping the surgical flow going smoothly.

When the practitioner returns from training, they’ll assist in the first 10 robotic surgeries with the same surgeon to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Robotic surgery makes the role of the surgical assistant more important and puts more responsibility on their shoulders. This is because they are in the surgical field monitoring both the patient and the machine for the entire procedure while the surgeon is in the control room. If complications with the machinery arise – and it’s a machine, so glitches will occur – the practitioner must know immediately how to solve those problems to keep the procedure and the patient safe.

Growing Along with Robotic Surgeries

AP Health provides surgical assistants to five hospitals within the Memorial Healthcare System in South Florida, where the number of robotic surgeries continues to grow. When we started working with them, there was just one surgical robot. Now there are five, with an additional five to be delivered in 2021.

The growth has been the result of improvements in patient outcomes and increased efficiencies. It has also been because the surgeons have fully embraced robotics. For example, we have assisted Dr. Christopher Seaver, one of the general surgeons at Memorial Hospital West, in completing over 1,000 robotic surgeries in 2019-2020.   

We now provide 15 robotically trained surgical assistants to the Memorial Healthcare System and have assisted in more than 3,800 surgeries since 2018.

Robotic Surgery Leads to Better Outcomes

The most important benefit of robotic surgery is that it provides a better outcome for the patient. With three-dimension vision and keyhole incisions, the patient can get back to their daily activities faster than with traditional surgery because their incision was smaller, resulting in less pain and faster recovery.

Robotic surgeries benefit surgeons and the overall healthcare system by increasing safety and efficiency. Cost savings are achieved because patients may be discharged within the same day or the next day, rather than spending two or three days in the hospital recovering from traditional surgery.

Robotics drive better outcomes for all parties – that’s the goal of AP Health.

Mohamed Hegazy is the Director of Education and Clinical Manager and John Torres is the Vice President of Operations of AP Health at 5 Memorial Health Properties