TAMC gets a helping hand in surgery from robot

| June 16, 2011 | 0 Comments
TAMC now offers robot-assisted surgery using the machine pictured above. During a procedure, such as a thyroidectomy, a surgeon controls the robot from a console, while watching images through a monitor.

TAMC now offers robot-assisted surgery using the machine pictured above. During a procedure, such as a thyroidectomy, a surgeon controls the robot from a console, while watching images through a monitor.

Story and Photo by
Nick Spinelli
Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs

HONOLULU — Surgeons at Tripler Army Medical Center have completed their third robot-assisted thyroidectomy, or surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid gland, here, recently.

The new procedure reduces scarring in patients.

“Traditionally, in order to perform a thyroidectomy, the surgeon would make a four- to eight-centimeter incision in the neck, which leaves a pretty noticeable scar,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Klem, one of the TAMC’s surgeons trained on the procedure.

Now, the robot-assisted surgery makes a six-centimeter incision in the patient’s armpit, resulting in a smaller scar in a less-noticeable area.

The new procedure was popularized in Korea. It has only recently spread to the U.S., with about 20 surgeons currently performing the procedure, none of who have completed more than 30 surgeries.

The only robot commercially available for the procedure costs between $1-2 million dollars. It uses four arms — one with a camera and three with surgical instruments — all of which possess greater dexterity than human hands.

For this reason, Klem said, the system is already accepted all over the country for prostate, gynecology and cardiac surgeries. Thyroid surgery is just the latest use.

“I was very excited,” said Cynthis Boone, who had her thyroid surgery using the robotic system, May 18. “I knew they hadn’t had a lot of experience yet, but I asked around, and I became very confident about their abilities.”

Klem said those abilities are hard won, as the training to use the system is very detailed.

At first glance, the system looks like a video game.

The surgeon controls the robot from a console, while watching camera images through a monitor. A technician is on hand at all times.

“Training takes (more than) several months and includes different classes in various locations around the country,” Klem said. “It’s also carefully controlled by the hospital. Even after the training, there is credentialing criterion that still has to be met.”

Boone said her recovery process is going smoothly.

“I am very satisfied with the procedure and the doctors,” she said. “Not only were they very professional, but they were also pleasant and understanding, which I think was necessary to put me at ease, as this was such a new procedure.”

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