St. Mark’s among nation’s first to perform robotic assistant spinal fusions

Male doctor wearing scrubs working with surgical robot

A new surgical tool combined with experienced orthopedic surgeons can significantly improve life for patients who have been debilitated by back pain, says St. Mark’s Hospital interim CEO Bryan McKinley of the hospital’s new robotic guided system with first of its kind technology for spine surgery.

The HCA Healthcare affiliate in Salt Lake City, Utah is the first and to date only community hospital and second worldwide to offer this surgical option to patients who need a spinal fusion.

Standing next to the orthopedic surgeon, the robot swings its arm over a patient and pinpoints the exact position to place the needed spinal screws. The robot and surgeon then work together – the surgeon operating the instruments, and the robot guiding the direction, depth and angle of the surgeon’s hands. The cutting-edge robot guarantees accuracy with every procedure with the help of real-time 3D imaging for enhanced navigation and robotic guidance for bone screw replacements.

Dr. Kade Huntsman, an orthopedic spine surgeon at St. Mark’s, performed the first procedures with the new robotic system in October.

Male doctor wearing scrubs working with surgical robot

“I want procedures to go perfectly; and though I can make them perfect occasionally, this robotic system helps me to make it perfect every time,” Dr. Huntsman said. “It’s absolutely phenomenal. The surgeries I have done with this new technology have been flawless, and the post-operative images are picture-perfect.”

Who can benefit from this new surgical robotic system?

People who need a lumbar, thoracic or cervical spinal fusion can benefit from this minimally invasive, robotic-assisted procedure. Anyone who has been enduring degenerative disc disease or traumatic spinal injuries can greatly benefit from a new robotic technology that can significantly improve outcomes. It can also help people with spinal instability due to scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, fractures and other conditions.

How it works:

During spinal fusions, surgeons place a minimum of four titanium bone screws for a single level infusion – and they aren’t particularly small. On average, they measure 6.5 mm in diameter and 50 mm long. That’s a little smaller than an adult male’s pinky and a little longer than one too. Placement of these screws makes a difference in the patient’s recovery and pain levels, so precision is key.

The new robotic system seamlessly integrates X-rays taken throughout the surgery with C/T scans obtained beforehand. This comprehensive, real-time imaging enhances navigation during the spinal procedure and combines with a robotic arm to guide surgeons as they place the bone screws.

The top four ways the new navigating robot improves spinal fusion surgeries:

  1. Accuracy. During traditional spinal fusion surgery, a surgeon “free hands” the bone screw placements. Even among the most experienced orthopedic specialists, there is always a slight risk of a screw inadvertently touching a nerve root, which can lead to painful tingling later on. The new robotic system helps surgeons to avoid even slight misplacements. Combined with the specialist’s expertise and skills, this advanced surgical system can ensure more precise placements, reduced complication rates, and less wear and tear on adjacent vertebrae.
  2. Less radiation exposure. Spinal fusions typically require repeated X-rays to confirm accurate bone screw placements. The new robotic system provides a single live, 3D image during the procedure. Thus, the patient receives measurably less radiation exposure.
  3. Even smaller incisions. This new surgical tool takes minimally invasive spinal fusions to another level. Given its ability to hone in on the exact location and direction for each bone screw, the surgeon only needs to make 1 cm long incisions – just wide enough to fit the screw head.
  4. Minimizes risks. Minimally invasive procedures with smaller incision sites typically have lower complication rates, reduced blood loss and decreased infection rates. As a result, patients can also expect shorter hospital stays and optimal recoveries.

“This newest robotic surgery system will advance care for patients who undergo minimally invasive spinal fusion at St. Mark’s,” CEO McKinley says.

Has your physician recommended a spinal fusion to relieve your back or neck pain? Visit here for more information on minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery at St. Mark’s.

As Utah’s first hospital, St. Mark’s Hospital, a member of HCA Healthcare’s MountainStar Healthcare, has served the thriving Salt Lake Valley community since 1872.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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