Thrive by IU Health

November 07, 2023

With the help of robotic arms, caring hands provide advanced care

IU Health Arnett Hospital

With the help of robotic arms, caring hands provide advanced care

Robotic surgery is no longer a far-off hope for the future, it is an established surgical subspecialty.

But what does robotic surgery really mean?

“That’s the misconception, that I just type in ‘hysterectomy’ and go get a cup of coffee and I’m done,” says Joel McCuaig, MD, FACOG. “It’s not quite that easy.”

Instead, robotic surgery involves the surgeon operating a console that, in turn, controls surgical instruments.

McCuaig, pictured above, has 15 years of robotic surgery experience, specializing in gynecology, and has overseen the expansion of robotic surgery in IU Health’s West Central Region, which includes Arnett, Frankfort and White Memorial hospitals. The first surgeon in Greater Lafayette to complete a robotic surgery, McCuaig is approaching a significant milestone—completion of 1,000 robotic surgeries.

In addition to this success, McCuaig is also a pioneer in using robotic surgical systems in outpatient surgery locations, rather than in the hospital. Gynecological surgeries are performed in this new setting by McCuaig and his fellow Women’s Health physician, Rea Sebata. More physicians are also training to use the system in the general surgery setting, too, for procedures such as hernia repair.

“This is something of the future,” says McCuaig.

To help achieve this, the IU Health Arnett Outpatient Surgery Center acquired a new tool in spring 2023, a da Vinci Xi robotic surgical system, which is a newer generation of the machine that comes with increased capabilities. IU Health Arnett Hospital houses a second da Vinci machine.

Getting patients back to their lives faster

With traditional surgical techniques, patients have overnight, and sometimes multi-day, hospital stays that are necessary to recover from surgery.

With robotic surgery in an outpatient setting, patients can go home the same day.

“The biggest thing is that it allows complex surgery to be done laparoscopically, so smaller incisions, less post-operative pain, quicker return to activity and shorter recovery time,” says McCuaig. “Cases that I used to do open, with a large incision, that would stay a week when I was in residency and five days when I first went into practice, now go home the same day or the next morning.”

The da Vinci robotic surgical system only requires a few small incisions, which reduces recovery time so patients can get back to their lives quicker than ever.

From the surgeon’s perspective

Traditional surgical practices take a physical toll on surgeons. But a robotic system never gets tired, and it has technology that gives surgeons nearly superhuman abilities, including stereoscopic vision, which provides the surgeon with enhanced depth perception.

“You have better vision with the robot than you could possibly have with your own eyes,” says McCuaig.

Robotic surgical systems don’t look like a typical surgery. The surgeon sits at a separate console where they can comfortably manipulate their surgical tools using small finger cots, pictured below. The system automatically adjusts the surgeon’s movements and filters out any tremors.

McCuaig demonstrates how a surgeon operates the da Vinci Xi console during a surgical procedure.

Robotic surgery requires specialized equipment and rigorously trained surgeons and technicians. It is not available at every hospital, but patients in and around the Lafayette area have access to these latest innovations and the skilled providers that operate them.

“This is only available in a few larger cities,” says McCuaig. “And this is available here.”