1 of 8
Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Jeff Studebaker, clinical sales manager for Intuitive Surgical, demonstrates the da Vinci Surgical System, during a Test Drive the Robot event at St. Mark’s Hospital in Millcreek on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Surgeons at St. Mark's Hospital are using robots to make surgeries less invasive and more precise.

A variety of specialties are now making use of robots as Utah hospitals follow a national trend to take advantage of the technology, according to Dr. Jessica Hunn.

Hunn is a gynecologic oncologist surgeon and the Robotic Medical Director at St. Mark's Hospital. She said St. Marks is ahead of the curve when it comes to robotic surgery, with more robots and more types of surgeons who use them.

"It’s really exciting how we’ve grown for the last three or four years," Hunn said.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Jeff Studebaker, clinical sales manager for Intuitive Surgical, operates the da Vinci Surgical System remotely, moving tiny rubber bands onto cones during a Test Drive the Robot event at St. Mark’s Hospital in Millcreek on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

Hunn uses the da Vinci robot, which she says provides a magnified 3D view allowing her to see as if her eyes were inside the patient. With the robot she is able to move more fine tools while seated at the machine near the patient, just like she would if she were standing above a patient.

"The robot doesn’t do the surgery, it’s still the surgeon, and it’s important to find a surgeon that is skilled and trained well and does a lot of surgeries. The robot won’t make a bad surgeon a good surgeon," Hunn said.

St. Marks Hospital invited the public to come see how the robots work, and even test drive some of its da Vinci robots to help explain what it means to use robots in surgery.

"Surgery, in general, is an abstract idea for most people and so to actually see the machine that we use is kind of a neat thing," Hunn said.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Jeff Studebaker, clinical sales manager for Intuitive Surgical, demonstrates the da Vinci Surgical System, during a Test Drive the Robot event at St. Mark’s Hospital in Millcreek on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

Dr. Kade Huntsman is a spinal surgeon who uses the ExcelsiusGPS to do a more accurate surgery with smaller incisions. He said St. Marks was the second hospital to use the machine. Doctors there used it first in October 2017 and have performed about 200 surgeries since.

"We don’t have to do so much destructive work just to get to the spine. This allows me to see the spine from outside the skin and put screws just through the skin instead of making a big incision," Huntsman said.

Monty Andrus, one of Huntsman's patients, had a spinal fusion in May 2018 using the machine to insert 12 screws and two rods. He said his experience was great and he would choose to use the robot if he needed surgery again.

“I’m back to playing golf, I’m back to playing pickle ball and exercising … I don’t feel any restrictions at all,” Andrus said.

Steve Griffin, Deseret News
The view through the da Vinci Surgical System is pictured during a Test Drive the Robot event at St. Mark’s Hospital in Millcreek on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

He said once he understood how the machine worked it made a lot of sense. It used Andrus' MRI, X-ray and CT scan to line up the ideal angle for the doctor to place the screws.

"It's designed for my body," Andrus said.

1 comment on this story

Huntsman pointed out another benefit — using the robot makes him more relaxed at the end of the day. He said before the robot he had a very high-stress job because of the accuracy needed.

"I still worry about missing, but it takes a lot of that stress away so it’s a lot more enjoyable, a lot more fun, a lot more accurate (and) better for the patient," Huntsman said.

He also said the recovery time is "dramatically better" following surgery with the assistance of the ExcelsiusGPS. Patients go home one or two days after the surgery and feel great again in about three months, rather than six.