Art of robotics on show in hospital

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2011, 12:00am


Surgeons at Queen Mary Hospital are going hands-free, and perfecting their art with the help of a device called the Da Vinci system.

The system uses robotic arms, operated remotely, offering more accuracy and precision and ending the need for surgeons to scrub up.

More than 500 patients have undergone surgery using the Da Vinci system, named after the Italian artist and innovator of the Renaissance era, since it was introduced at the hospital in Pok Fu Lam in 2007, and doctors say it has helped patients recover more quickly and spills less blood than traditional surgery.

'The Da Vinci system magnifies everything on the screen. It's like me sitting inside the patient's body to perform the surgery,' said Professor William Ignace Wei, an ear, nose and throat expert.

The system, pioneered in the United States in 2000, features a camera and several robotic arms that can move around like human hands. Each arm has two 'fingers' that work like a clip, and like the human wrist, fingers can move forwards and backwards by seven degrees.

Doctors view the operation on a 3D screen in another room, although nurses are always on standby.

'With the help of the 3D view, we know exactly how deep we need to penetrate into the body and can avoid touching the blood vessels,' said Professor Hextan Ngan Yuen-sheung, head of the obstetrics and gynaecology department.

'Also, the arms never get tired and would not tremble. That increases precision.'

Doctors used the system to carry out 168 gynaecological operations, 167 urological operations and for 100 cases of general surgery. Only 2 per cent of patients who had their prostate glands removed using the system needed a blood transfusion, compared to 16 per cent after traditional surgery. They left hospital in 5.9 days, rather than the usual 13.2 days.

Consultant urologist Dr Tam Po-chor said the robotic arms were better than minimally invasive technology because of their flexible wrists. 'The arms can reach bodily cavities that are really narrow. The camera allows doctors to see everything clearly on the screen,' he said.

One 63-year-old patient, who underwent surgery for early-stage prostate cancer in 2009 with the help of the Da Vinci system, said: 'I recovered so quickly that I could play tennis in five weeks. The cancer never came back.'

Tam, his doctor, said the Da Vinci system was so precise that it would not hurt the patient's nerve endings, meaning he could retain his sexual function and the ability to control his bladder.

'As a doctor, I am more confident to operate with the Da Vinci system. I can see everything clearly and I know the patients will not bleed too much,' Tam said.