Health & Medicine

Robot-assisted surgeries are happening at Sierra Vista, and the public got to take the controls

For the past eight years, doctors have been using robot assistance to perform local surgeries at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center — and the public got to learn all about it Wednesday.

Physicians Eric Salinger and Christopher Johnson hosted presentations and a demonstration of the $1.8 million device they use to perform surgeries at the San Luis Obispo hospital.

The device, called the da Vinci Surgical System and described by some as a giant mechanical octopus, is made by the Sunnyvale-based company Intuitive Surgical. The physicians said it has helped patients recover more quickly and feel less pain while recuperating.

The doctors said robot-assisted surgery allows for smaller incisions and better visualization with 3-D cameras (as opposed to the traditional handheld cameras operated by assistants). It also offers better ergonomics, as physicians use hand-held devices to manipulate machines that cut, sew and prod.

“Robotics will help me to do my job longer in my career and offer more patients care,” said Salinger, a general surgeon who has used the machine to do about 200 surgeries since 2014. “The machine has many benefits to patients and doctors.”

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Salinger said that hernias and gallbladders make up about two-thirds of all general surgeries, and his very first operation using the da Vinci system was a hernia procedure.

Doctors perform all functions of the robot-assisted surgeries, as surgeons must direct the tools to complete tasks. Salinger said he doesn’t believe artificial intelligence advancements will allow robots to perform successful surgeries on their own (without human guidance) anytime soon because of the many variables during a surgery.

Those in attendance had the opportunity to test a demonstration device (not the actual machine used by doctors) by picking up objects such as a penny, as well as to play a video-simulated game designed to test dexterity skills by picking up images of boxes and dominoes and placing them on top of each other.

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The event was held in collaboration with the group Life Long Learners of the Central Coast, which offers learning events for $10 for non-members and $5 for members throughout the year.

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