Patients at St. Charles Redmond now have access to a surgical method that is growing in use.

The hospital performed its first operation using the da Vinci Surgical System robot earlier this month.

The robot has been in use at St. Charles Bend since 2012, which became one of the last large hospitals in the state to add one, according to Bulletin archives.

Bend recently upgraded to the new $2.1 million XI model from da Vinci maker Intuitive Surgical, officials said. That allowed the older model to be moved to Redmond.

The robot has been used regularly in urology and gynecology and in other areas.

“It’s really starting to take off in general surgery,” said Dr. John Land, a Redmond surgeon.

The robot makes a smaller incision than would be required in traditional surgery. Land said that has helped decrease pain, with his narcotics prescription rate decreasing by more than 90 percent. It also allows patients to return to work faster and have to spend less time rehabbing in physical therapy.

Some patients are confused, but doctors explain that they will be the ones doing the surgery.

“I have to explain to them that I will be operating the robot,” said Dr. Ngocthuy Hughes. “This is my new tool, versus the laparoscope. … I make it very clear to them that there is not one part of the operation that is automated. The robot does not do anything on its own.”

The doctors say operating the robot, which is done from a console a few feet from the patient, provides less wear and tear on their bodies than maneuvering with their hands. That means less fatigue during the operation, as well as preventing longer-term health issues.

Doctors go through four-to six months of training on using the robot before operating with it, Land said.

The Redmond robot will help reduce demand for the surgeries. Dr. Phuong Nguyen said St. Charles Bend performed 800 surgeries last year, but that number could have been higher with another robot.

“Almost every laparoscopic surgery we do, we would do robotically if we had the time for it,” said Nguyen, who like Land and Hughes is part of the St. Charles Surgical Specialists group.

Along with the cost of the robot itself, robotic surgery has been criticized for its cost to perform.

The doctors say some robotic surgeries, such as inguinal hernia or gallbladder operations, are now as low or lower in cost than laparoscopic counterparts, and they are continuing to work to make it equivalent or less in cost for other surgeries. But even when robotic surgery is more costly upfront, they say patients can see savings by getting back to work sooner and facing less pain.

“Nothing is cheaper than doing a huge incision,” Land said. “But patients spend more days in the hospital and are in a lot more pain.”

Another question that comes up is how the hospital can expand its robotics program while it is closing its family birthing center in Redmond on the recommendation of a work group that sought to harness increasing costs of childbirth in the area. James Reedy, chief nursing officer for the St. Charles Health System, said the birthing center closure was about consolidating operations where more specialists are, while the robots are serving an aging population.

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmondspokesman.com

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