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New surgical robot helps surgeons at St. Francis Medical Center in Colorado Springs

The St. Francis Medical Center is now the first location in Colorado Springs to offer joint replacement surgeries with the aid of a surgical robot.

According to a press release by the medical center, Stryker’s MAKO Surgical Robot will allow physicians and patients to have more predictable knee and hip joint replacement surgeries and better outcomes.

Surgeons will be able to use MAKO to create a personalized surgical plan through CT-based 3D modeling of a patient’s bone anatomy.

Dr. Benjamin Kam, an orthopedic surgeon, said this technology allows for more precise surgeries.

“Surgeons with thirty years of experience sometimes can eyeball something and get it just perfect,” he said. “But in cases where surgeons don’t have that much experience, robots can bridge the gap.”

Dr. Jason Weisstein, a joint replacement specialist, says the MAKO robot is more of a tool as opposed to an independent device that performs surgical operations.

“The FDA would not approve an autonomous robot for surgery,” said Weisstein, adding that patients shouldn’t expect an R2-D2 or a C-3PO in the operation room. “It is a tool. It still relies on the surgeon’s brain and it relies on a lot of input before surgery ever happens.”

The MAKO robot operates under the hand of the surgeon, who squeezes a trigger that controls the pressure and speed of the saw. The MAKO software will also give surgeons real-time feedback, letting them know if the saw is going too deep into the bone or cutting too close to a major blood vessel. If the software foresees any immediate danger, it will either adjust the pressure of the saw or shut off.

By 2030, the demand for knee joint replacement surgery is expected to increase by 673 percent to 3.48 million procedures, according to a 2007 study.

Kam says the huge increase in demand is due to a larger population of Baby Boomers entering an older age.

“That group of people is a large group of people in the population of the United States,” Kam said. “That’s mainly the exponential reason for why we’re going to see a lot more joint replacement in the coming years.”

Weisstein said the device also will save a patient’s money by reducing their recovery time, with most being able to leave the hospital the same day.

“The robot enables us to know exactly what we’ve got,” Weisstein said. “We’ve got real-time feedback and ultimately I think that leads to happier patients.”

A spokesperson for Penrose-St. Francis Health Services said there are currently five orthopedic surgeons who use the MAKO robot. MAKO has been used for about 80 operations at the local hospital since April.

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