Scripps Encinitas launches robotic surgery program

Scripps Encinitas launches robotic surgery program
The da Vinci Si machine sits ready to perform a demonstration on Monday at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas. Photo by Shana Thompson

ENCINITAS — Dr. Adam Fierer said that it took him a few years to get used to the idea that a robot could perform a surgery better than he ever could.

But with him at the controls of the four robotic arms that make precision surgical maneuvers through the tiniest of incisions, he quickly realized the robot enhanced his abilities in the operating room.

“I looked at robotics briefly as a crutch, it was doing something I had been doing for 20 years, how could it be better?” Fierer said. “And it took me probably two years to realize it was better.

Dr. Adam Fierer uses hand controls and foot pedals on the da Vinci Surgical System to control the robot that is used to perform minimally invasive surgeries. Photo by Shana Thompson

“And now, I am no longer embarrassed to admit I can do an operation better with a robot than I can with my hands,” Fierer said.

Fierer helms Scripps Memorial Hospital’s new Minimally Invasive Robotic Surgery Program, which has been a staple of Scripps Health for more than a decade but the program, which uses the da Vinci Surgical System, recently expanded to the Encinitas campus.

Equipped with multiple robotic arms tipped with precise instruments, the da Vinci functions as an extension of a surgeon’s hands. It can make smaller incisions than are typically possible using manual instruments.

Dr. Adam Fierer uses hand controls to operate the daVinci Surgical System. Photo by Shana Thompson

Fierer, who made his career in the field of minimally invasive, or laparoscopic, surgery, speaks with excitement about the addition of robotics surgery and the da Vinci system to Encinitas.

“It gives us the ability to do things that most of us couldn’t ever imagine due to the precision of the robot,” he said. “It is just really cool and exciting to feel I am doing something that is going to turn out as well as I can possibly make it for my patients. To have somebody go home a day or two after having part of their colon taken out is incredible.

“It is literally nothing short of miraculous that we (the medical community) were able to do this in a relatively short period of time, in 20 to 30 years we have made such a tremendous leap,” Fierer added.

The da Vinci Si performs a demonstration on a model of human tissue. Photo by Shana Thompson

So far, the $2 million system has been used with two gynecological oncology operations and two prostatectomies, procedures that Fierer said had not been performed at the Encinitas campus “in many, many years.”

In addition, Fierer said, the da Vinci system can be used in other thoracic, cardiac and general surgery procedures, including hysterectomy, myomectomy, colectomy, cholecystectomy, mitral valve repair and hernia surgery.

North County is no stranger to the da Vinci system. Palomar Health brought the first robot to its health system in 2007, and Tri-City Medical Center followed suit in 2011. Scripps has had the robot at other locations, but the Encinitas hospital’s recent expansion enabled Scripps to launch the program locally.

“Scripps is committed to bringing advanced minimally invasive surgery services to all of our patients throughout San Diego County,” said Carol Salem, M.D., medical director of the Scripps Minimally Invasive Robotic Surgery Program. “With this tremendous technology in our operating rooms, our highly skilled surgeons can offer precision robotics combined with personalized care.”

Fierer said he expects the robotic surgery program to ramp up in coming months as more surgeons are trained with the system and demand for the service increases.

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