Less pain, more confidence are benefits for patients
In the last decade, two technological developments have led to significant advances in cardio-thoracic surgery. Dr. Anthony Rogers, a cardio-thoracic and vascular surgeon at Lexington’s Central Baptist Hospital, said video assisted thoracic Surgery (VATS) allows surgeons to make several small incisions, each roughly an inch in length, instead of one large chest incision that typically extended for six inches or more and required the ribs to be spread. The smaller incisions provide an opening through which a camera called a thoracoscope and surgical tools can be inserted.
VATS has proven to be an excellent method for performing biopsies and early-stage cancer removal. While VATS can be used for small growths, it is unsuitable for larger tumors or growths near the heart. “It hasn’t totally eliminated the traditional approach but is a complement,” Rogers said.
The da Vinci Robot has received a great deal of media attention in recent years. It is being used for a wide variety of procedures, including thoracic, gynecological and urological surgeries, as well as general and ENT surgery. Using a specially designed console and 3D imagery, the surgeon is able to guide three to four robotic arms in a highly precise manner, offering a greater range of motion and accuracy than traditional surgery.
In many instances, the new technologies offer significant benefits over traditional surgery. Both VATS and the da Vinci Robot are minimally invasive. Smaller incisions translate to less pain and a shorter recovery time for the patient. There is less blood loss and wound infection rates are lower. Because a shorter hospital stay is needed, associated costs can be reduced by as much as 40 percent although some surgical costs in the hospital may be greater. Patients often feel more confident about the accuracy of the systems, and knowing their recovery time has been cut from perhaps six weeks to two helps them feel more relaxed, a factor that further aids their wellbeing. and hospital stays are shorter. Cure rates of the various diseases and cancers treated via VATS and robotic surgery are equal to or better than those of traditional surgery.
So what does it mean for the medical professional? Obviously, these new technologies call for the surgeon to take a very different approach from what she or he may be used to, as well as developing a different mindset. “You initially don’t feel that you’re in control as much,” Rogers said. However, once trained, surgeons find the benefits far outweigh the risks. And lest one thinks traditional surgery will soon be a thing of the past, Rogers said there will always be a need for trained surgeons capable of performing more invasive surgeries.
Rogers emphasizes the importance of proper training with any new equipment. He reminds GPs and patients to ensure that their surgeon has the requisite certifications, no matter what type of surgery he or she is going to perform.
Given these advances, one might be tempted to ask what will be next. “We’ve had a lot of development in minimally invasive techniques,” said Rogers. “Every time you think something has become as good as it’s going to be, someone finds a way to make it better, so I think that’ll be true here, too.”
By Fiona Young-Brown, Staff Writer