The da Vinci® system – development & background
The US army and the beginnings of robot-assisted surgery
The da Vinci® system was developed in the 1980s by US army medical technology specialists. The robot was developed with the aim of enabling surgeons to carry out operations remotely, far from specialist US hospitals.
The system never achieved sufficient maturity for military use, but just a few years later it did conquer the civilian sector. By 2008, 77% of prostate operations performed in the USA were being performed using Intuitive Surgical’s robot-assisted da Vinci® system. In North America, the system has long established itself as the treatment standard.
The origins of robot-assisted surgery in Germany
In Germany, by contrast, for a long period the da Vinci® system found few adherents. The high investment costs for the system and the steep learning curve for surgeons and their teams appears to have deterred doctors and hospitals from adopting the system. One of the first users here in Germany was Dr. Jörn Witt from St. Antonius-Hospital Gronau, who went to the US to train with the system and, from 2006, used the expertise he acquired there to make da Vinci® the surgical standard at St. Antonius-Hospital Gronau.
“It’s the team, not the machine”
The surgical team in Gronau has now completed more than 7.000 operations using the da Vinci® system. As their experience has increased, they have been able to both reduce operation times and further reduce the number of complications.
Although there are now a lot more da Vinci® robots in use in Germany (around 70), few hospitals in Europe with this technology have comprehensively mastered its use. Because, explains Georgios Stamatelos, “Investing in the da Vinci® robot is one thing – experience shows that surgeons, the theatre team and the hospital as a whole have a significant learning process to go through before they are really able to get the most out of this technology.” A variety of clinical studies have now shown that the benefits of robot-assisted surgery are only really realised once the surgeon and his or her team have amassed significant training and experience with the technique.
High tech systems and state-of-the-art procedures notwithstanding, in Gronau we know that at the end of the day, in medicine, what matters is “the team, not the machine”.
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