N.S. hospital agency pushes for private donors to pay for robot-assisted surgery 

Click to play video: 'Surgeons at QEII now using robot to help with procedures' Surgeons at QEII now using robot to help with procedures
WATCH: Surgeons at the QEII Health Sciences Centre are now using a robot to help with procedures. The robot has been used in nearly 100 surgeries so far and doctors say it will have far-reaching benefits for patients. Alexa MacLean has more. – Nov 22, 2019

Atlantic Canada’s largest hospital system is seeking private donors as it tries to keep pace with other regions in the adoption of robot-assisted surgery.

The Queen Elizabeth II Hospital Foundation said Friday it hopes to raise $8.1 million to pay for the popular da Vinci surgical system, which is typically used to help surgeons operate through small openings in the body.

The system typically inserts probes with cameras, allowing for smaller, more precise cuts controlled by the surgeon using the robotic tool.

READ MORE: Kingston Health Sciences Centre’s surgical robot cuts down on recovery time for cancer patients

The foundation has already raised $5.3 million – much of it from Nova Scotia’s wealthy Sobey family – and a pilot program is underway in prostate, kidney and hysterectomy surgeries at Halifax’s Queen Elizabeth II facility, which is run by the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

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The foundation says the final $2.8 million is needed to move to a permanent system.

Robot-assisted surgery is offered at numerous hospitals throughout Canada and the U.S., and has been the topic of debate in medical science journals, with some studies showing it can bring higher costs without improved outcomes.

However, surgeons attending the Halifax fundraising launch by the foundation said they’re already seeing improvements in patient well-being, and department leaders say having a robot is key to recruiting some specialists.

Dr. Katharina Kieser told a gathering at the hospital that since February, 88 robot-assisted cancer surgeries have been performed, and early signs suggest improvements in patient care.

“There’s faster healing and recovery times, shorter hospital stays, fewer post-operative complications, reduced pain and reduced reliance on opioids to manage pain, and a quicker return to daily life,” she said.

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Dr. Greg Bailly, chief of urology at the health centre, said he needs a robot to recruit new surgeons who are trained on the technology.

“If we don’t have a robot available, we’re not as attractive a place to come and work,” he said during a presentation.

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One of the doctors recruited, Dr. Ross Mason, a urologist and cancer surgeon, said in an interview he believes the robot helps in prostate surgeries where each incision can affect the delicate nerves that control the bladder and sexual function.

Patient Barrie MacFarlane, 72, had robot-assisted prostate surgery on Feb. 7 and said he was home walking his dog in Dartmouth, N.S., later that day.

“I thought, ‘This is amazing, and hopefully others will have this benefit,”‘ he said in a telephone interview.

MacFarlane said he had small five surgical holes in his abdomen which healed in about three days. “I have little marks where it happened, but I have no big incisions of any kind,” he said.

“It certainly is a game-changer for anyone who has prostate cancer and is eligible for surgery…. There’s less nursing care, less follow-up and all of those are cost benefits,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2019.

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