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Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital on Monday marked its 1,000th robot-assisted surgery case with an open house for visitors to see and hear about the device.

The da Vinci robots made by Intuitive Surgical Inc. have become hugely popular among many physicians and hospitals in Buffalo and elsewhere.

Roswell Park Cancer Institute has done more than 2,200 robotic cases, while doctors in the Catholic Health System have done more than 1,800 cases, officials said.

Advocates prefer the robot over traditional surgery or laparoscopy – in which a thin, lighted tube is inserted – for some procedures. They tout advantages that include a clearer view and more precise movements in tight spaces, both of which contribute to shorter hospital stays, less blood loss and less pain after the operation.

“It expands our capabilities as surgeons,” said Dr. Pankaj Singhal, site director of robotic surgery for Kaleida Health, at Monday’s event.

As of the end of last year, 2,585 da Vinci systems were installed in about 2,025 hospitals worldwide.

But despite the growing use of robots, the medical community continues to debate the rapid adoption of the costly new technology before studies show if the robots are better than existing approaches and if the benefits outweigh the expenses.

For example, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that using the robot for hysterectomies costs hospitals almost $2,200 more per procedure, compared with other minimally invasive surgical techniques. However, there were no additional benefits for patients. There also is concern about complication rates, particularly among inexperienced operators, and about the heavy marketing of the device.

Singhal said the journal article related to women with benign conditions and that hospitals see a significant profit margin for patients with more complicated disorders, including cancer.

One of the major challenges to novice robotic surgeons is the lack of “tactile feedback,” the ability to feel the tissue, as well as the lack of accepted guidelines for training people to use the machines. To help address that, Roswell Park Cancer Institute researchers developed the equivalent of a flight simulator for robotic surgeons.

Called RoSS, the device uses virtual reality to guide the hands of trainees in every move used by experienced surgeons.

The cancer center and four collaborating institutions evaluated the effectiveness of the training course and found that it improved skills, according to a recent article in the journal Urology.

“It’s critically important that institutions that offer robot- assisted surgeries develop training programs for their surgeons that realistically simulate the surgical environment and build user proficiency in core skills,” said Dr. Khurshid A. Guru, director of robotic surgery at Roswell Park and senior study author.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com