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Backgrounder on robot-assisted surgery at Vancouver General Hospital

September 10th, 2007
Robot-assisted surgery is a significant technological advancement and allows VGH to continue to play a leadership role in health care innovation for patients. Medical technology forecasters predict a role for robot-assisted surgery in operating rooms of the future.

Vancouver General Hospital will be the third facility in the entire country to provide this innovative method of surgery to patients.

In the first three years, five types of procedures will be performed at VGH using the new technology: three urology-related procedures; one cardiovascular surgery procedure; and one gynecology procedure.

Urology Procedures

  • Radical Prostatectomy: A surgical procedure that removes the entire prostate gland plus some surrounding tissue.
  • Pyeloplasty: An operation to remove a blockage in the tube (ureter) leading from one of the kidneys to the bladder.
  • Living Donor Nephrectomy: Removal of a kidney from a living donor for immediate transplantation into a patient in critical need.
Cardiovascular Surgery Procedures

  • Mitral Valve Repair: There are four valves within the heart; the mitral, tricuspid, aortic and pulmonic valves. Mitral valve repair is the procedure of choice for most patients with mitral regurgitation (a leaky mitral valve).
Gynecology Procedure

  • Hysterectomy: An operation to remove a woman's uterus, or womb. In some cases, the ovaries and fallopian tubes also are removed.
Over the initial three-year trial period, it is estimated that nearly 600 patients will be treated with this leading-edge technology.

Benefits to Patients
The most important benefit of robot-assisted surgery is the improvement of patient health outcomes. These benefits to patients are numerous and include: 

  • Less postoperative pain and shorter hospital stays
  • Faster convalescence, therefore reduced need for convalescent services (ie estimated recovery from radical prostatectomy is seven weeks after open surgery vs. four weeks after robot-assisted surgery. Twenty fewer days in convalescence means 15 fewer days away from work). 
  • Lower use of analgesics
  • Fewer surgical complications 
  • In cases of surgeries where tissue removal is required, more accurate or at least as complete, removal of tissues. This translates into a decreased risk of progression or recurrence and increased disease-free survival.
  • Access to the most advanced procedures and highly motivated personnel
  • In the future, this technology may permit surgery in cases that might otherwise have been inoperable 
  •  While the first three to five years will be focused on in-house procedures, this technology has the potential to enable telesurgical applications, stretching the benefits to patients beyond the hospital. This would be particularly impactful in B.C.’s rural and remote communities, benefiting patients, health care professionals and the system overall.
Benefits to surgeons

  • Enables much more precise surgery than ever before
  • Better access to difficult to reach body cavities
  • Reduced fatigue during surgery
  • Opportunities to research, refine, and teach newest procedures 
  • Opportunities for professional growth for surgeons and their surgical teams 
  • Easier to learn than traditional laparoscopy 
  • Enhanced ability to teach by being able to show students and residents areas that are otherwise visible only to the surgeon
Benefits to the health care system

  • The introduction of robot-assisted surgery will reinforce VGH’s position as a leading centre of surgical excellence and innovation in Canada and worldwide
  • It will strengthen our ability to attract, train, and retain the ”best and the brightest” clinical staff
  • It will increase opportunities for VGH-initiated invention, development, and refinement of surgical solutions
  • By reducing risks and recovery times associated with live kidney donation, an increase in individuals willing to participate in this procedure is anticipated 
  • Shorter times in hospital translate into cost avoidance - such as reduced risk of acquiring infections in the hospital, greater patient comfort, and more acute care beds available for other patients waiting for care