Sky's the limit for Sky Ridge robots

Hospital's high-tech surgery program expanding


Already serving as one of the state's leaders in robot-assisted surgery, Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree is making a major investment in the future by building a special robotics unit.

Construction in the Lone Tree hospital's Evergreen building is currently underway for an outpatient robotic surgery center covering more than 26,000 square feet, slated to open in 2022.

Sky Ridge CEO Kirk McCarty said robot-assisted surgery allows doctors to perform a variety of procedures with more precision, flexibility and control than is possible with conventional techniques. Robotic surgery is usually associated with minimally invasive surgery, which can be performed through tiny incisions.

In a robot-assisted procedure, surgeons operate on patients using a camera arm and mechanical arms that have surgical instruments attached to them. The surgeon controls the arms while seated at a computer console near the operating table. Through the technology, the surgeon has a view through a high definition, magnified, 3D lens.

Sky Ridge Vice President of Operation Will Bertram said the $20 million expansion will have four operating rooms, eight pre-op rooms and six recovery rooms.

In the new department, surgeons will focus on specialty procedures in gynecology, bariatrics and urology.

Bertram said the new department is being built directly next to the gynecology department because of the number of procedures being done for women. Robotic technology has emerged in the last decade to treat issues with the female reproductive system, Bertram said. The robots are able to more precisely remove tumors and address issues with less complications, he said.

Jeff James, a gynecological oncologist at Sky Ridge, said robotics in surgery has continually evolved over the last decade, noting that the ease of use, decrease of set-up time and patient success are all good reasons for the hospital to expand the program.

"Currently, one of the problems is availability,” James said. “With the equipment we have now, we have to schedule surgeons and patients and make sure the robots are available. That is because they create the ability for far more efficiency and better-quality services for the patient.”

In the past, James said preparing for a robotic-assisted surgery could take more than an hour to put the machine together. Now, with the equipment currently used at Sky Ridge and the future expansion, surgery prep takes around 10 minutes.

In gynecological procedures, James said the advanced robots allow easier access for specialized procedures and with the smart technology on the computer, the robot can correct a surgeon's hand movements quickly, rotating from left to right or right to left as needed, James said.

McCarty said in looking at where healthcare is headed, it makes sense to expand an area where technology allows surgeons to be more precise, cuts down on recovery time, allows patients to be sent home sooner and has less risk of complications.

“It allows us to take on a special niche to drive the positive outcome for patients,” McCarty said. “Sky Ridge is quickly becoming one of the busiest hospitals for robotic procedures in Colorado. We want to become a regional service center offering these procedures. This expansion will allow us to have the largest fleet of robots in the Rocky Mountain region.”

The need for robot-assisted procedures has steadily increased at Sky Ridge, Bertram said. After using one robot for several years, he said, the hospital invested in six more machines in 2015.

As information about robotics has become more readily available, Bertram said people are seeking out facilities that offer the technologically advanced services. Sky Ridge has not only treated patients from across the entire Front Range, but also statewide and from neighboring states, he said.

When robot-assisted surgeries started in 2013, Bertram said, Sky Ridge surgeons performed 250 procedures. In 2021, Sky Ridge will do 1,300 robot-assisted procedures, he said.

McCarty said Sky Ridge administrators would never have started discussing the expansion concepts and designs of the new center in 2018 if it were not for the “exceptional” surgeons working at the hospital.

“All the robots and pretty space would mean nothing without the great surgeons we have here,” he said. “We have a rock star staff taking care of our patients.”


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