An all-female medical practice that specializes in treating women is getting the word out that minimally invasive robotic surgery has great advantages over procedures that use traditional surgical incisions.
Lexington Women’s Health, on Alysheba Way in Hamburg, has a staff comprising board-certified obstetrician/gynecologists, certified midwives, physician’s assistants and advanced practice registered nurses.
Founded in 2007, the practice provides obstetrics care, midwifery care and office-based and surgical gynecology. The three physicians perform hysterectomies, myomectomies (surgical removal of fibroids from the uterus), excision of endometriosis, bladder repairs for incontinence and pelvic-organ prolapsed surgeries. All hospital work is performed at Baptist Health Lexington.
Recently, the Lexington Women’s Health staff showed off a demonstration model of the da Vinci Surgical System at its office. It was developed by Intuitive Surgical, a company based in Sunnyvale, Calif.
The da Vinci, as it’s known, enables surgeons to perform delicate, complex operations through a few tiny incisions with increased three-dimensional vision, precision, dexterity and control. The da Vinci’s robotic technology allows the surgeon’s hand movements at a console to be duplicated with precise movements of the instruments working inside a patient’s body.
“We’ve done robotic surgery since 2007 and have been very involved in teaching other surgeons the procedures,” said Jennifer Fuson, M.D., co-founder of the practice (pictured above). “When we thought about how to get the word out, that they can have minimally invasive robotic surgery as opposed to open surgery, we wanted to get as many people to see and touch the technology as possible.”
The practice staff contacted Intuitive Surgical, which regularly takes the robot demonstrator “on the road,” and convinced the company to bring it to its offices.
“You can accomplish surgeries in minimally invasive ways that were never before possible,” Fuson continued. “Women facing an abdominal incision for endometriosis or for a hysterectomy now have three or four incisions, each just eight millimeters (one-third of an inch) long. The patient often goes home within a few hours of surgery and is back to work in a couple of weeks instead of six weeks.”
Elizabeth Case, M.D., and Emily Cunningham, M.D., are the other two physicians in the practice. Case further explained the difference between traditional surgical methods and minimally invasive techniques.
“Before, some procedures were done by cutting you open, which led to two weeks of discomfort and huge recovery time. Now you do this as an outpatient and can be back to work in two weeks,” Case said.
In traditional abdominal incisions, surgeons don’t actually cut the muscles. Instead, muscles are pulled apart and doctors cut fascia, or connective tissue, over the muscles. It takes six weeks for them to heal properly. Without enough healing time, a hernia may develop. After having the abdominal muscles separated, the patient can’t easily get out of bed or stand up because of the pain from using those abdominals.
“But now, with minimally invasive surgery, some don’t even need to fill the prescription for pain pills, versus people who need the pills for two weeks,” Case said.
Lisa Crockett of Lexington had a hysterectomy back in January.
“Dr. Fuson and I looked at different options, and I was at my last resort. She firmly suggested this, and it was because of her passion and commitment that I said, ‘Let’s move forward,’” Crockett said.
Her message to other women in similar circumstances is to consider the robot.
“If you have any hesitation, don’t worry about that,” Crockett said. “I thought I’d be down and out for many weeks and not able to get back to work. But I had this procedure at 10 in the morning and was home at 3:30 that afternoon and back to work part-time within a week.”
Case had another example of why she believes the new system is better than the old one.
“When I did typical laparoscopic surgeries, it would take me, on average, an hour and 45 minutes. The patient spent 24 hours in the hospital with the loss of one pint of blood. The other day, I did a robotic surgery in 40 minutes, start to finish. The patient went home in two hours with no blood loss at all.”
Case said that, with traditional laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis, she typically used a two-dimensional camera and might spot a couple of lesions in the patient. But with the da Vinci system, with 3-D vision, she might locate a hundred lesions.
“We can remove them more adequately,” she said.
Case has practiced medicine for 12 years. When she began, she never envisioned using this type of technology, she said.
“I first heard about the da Vinci in 2005 but didn’t realize I’d be doing this kind of surgery,” she said.
And Case expects that the convenience and flexibility of such procedures will only increase in the future.
“In 12 years, I think I’ll be doing surgery from my house,” she said, laughing. “You can do it. As long as you have a full attending staff with the patient, the surgeon can be at a console operating from any remote location.”