FORT WALTON BEACH — The main entrance of Fort Walton Beach Medical Center looked like a science-fiction movie set Wednesday afternoon, as the hospital put its robotic surgery equipment on display.
The hospital now has three robotic surgical tools, representing an investment of more than $3 million, according to FWBMC Chief Operating Officer Todd Jackson. The equipment makes the medical center "the most robotically capable" hospital in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties, according to Jackson.
Arrayed at the hospital Wednesday for viewing — and for some more adventurous visitors to try out — were FWBMC's general surgery robotic tool, the da Vinci Surgical System, its Stryker Mako robotic arm, designed to assist with knee and hip replacement surgery, and its Mazor X machine, designed for use in spinal surgeries.
According to Jackson, as robotics have become more commonplace in the medical arena, patients have become far more accepting of the integration of that technology into their medical procedures.
"We didn't see that 10 or 15 years ago," Jackson said. Overall, he said, robotics allow for smaller incisions, produce lower infection rates, and get patients out of the hospital more quickly than more conventional surgeries.
With the ongoing advancements in surgical robotics, Jackson added, Fort Walton Beach Medical Center is now in a posture of monitoring those advancements to ensure the hospital is offering the best available technology to patients.
"There's a constant evaluation, on an annual basis," he said. For instance, Jackson said, since FWBMC purchased its da Vinci equipment, the system has been improved by the manufacturer.
Also on hand Wednesday were some of the surgeons who use the hospital's robotic equipment. One of them, general surgeon Dr. John Brent, has been using the da Vinci system for six years.
"It's a good tool for us," he said. Robotics are becoming more of a standard part of the surgical toolbox, he added. "It's evolving that way," Brent said. "It's here to stay."
Surgeons aren't simply turned loose with the da Vinci system, he explained. In addition to practicing with the system before using it in an actual operation, surgeons are monitored by experts during their first few robot-assisted operations.
Brent gives his patients the option of having procedures done with or without the robotic system. But as he explained Wednesday, robotics allow for more freedom of movement for surgical instruments, and also provide surgeons with better visualization of surgical procedures.
Dr. Anthony Brothers, a local orthopedic surgeon who uses Stryker's Mako robotic tool, said Wednesday that one advantage of the machine is that it keeps surgical tools within a defined area.
"It keeps you out of trouble," he said.
Dr. Mark Tenholder, who last month performed the first robotic-assisted knee replacement ever at FWBMC, said the Mako robot allows for a high degree of precision, an important consideration in and knee and hip replacement.
"The more accurately we put them in, the longer they last," Tenholder said.