Conference Coverage

Robotics lightens load for bariatric surgeons in super obese



Use of a robotics platform provides a surgeon with more information so they can make better decisions, especially in challenging situations of primary and revisional bariatric surgery, according to Cheguevara Afaneh, MD, of New York–Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York.

“The value of modern technology is to be able to do the most difficult cases in a much simpler format,” he said in a presentation at the virtual Annual Minimally Invasive Surgery Symposium by Global Academy for Medical Education.

Dr. Afaneh shared examples of how robotic assistance can help surgeons address challenges in bariatric surgery clinical practice, including managing super- and super-super-obese patients, dealing with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and negating the impact of surgical assistant experience.

“Super-obese patients pose more of a challenge interoperatively for both the surgeon and the assistant,” Dr. Afaneh noted. He and colleagues conducted a study of perioperative outcomes and found no significant differences between morbidly obese and super-obese patients in perioperative morbidity or operating time when a robotic platform was used.

The benefits to the surgeon when using robotic assistance in super-obese patients include effortless navigation of the abdominal wall, the ability to execute complex maneuvers in a challenging environment, and the security of a stable platform with no assistant fatigue, Dr. Afaneh emphasized. “When you are using the robotic platform, you are negating a lot of the patient factors” and fatigue factors that make bariatric surgery in super-obese and super-super-obese patients especially difficult, he said.

For example, in a patient who weighed nearly 500 pounds, pulling up on the stomach to get behind the actual stomach is easier because assistant fatigue is not a factor, so the surgeon can take more time and prevent a more difficult dissection, he said. In addition, Dr. Afaneh’s research showed no difference in operative time, and that the robot assistance outcomes were reproducible across a range of body mass index categories.

Robotic assistance also allows for comparable outcomes in surgeons with less experience, notably in revisional surgery, said Dr. Afaneh. He reviewed data from his first year of experience in revisional procedures using robotic assistance to his partners’ more than 20 years of laparoscopic experience. He found no significant differences in operative time, complications, or conversions to open procedures.

However, the more important message from the study was that less experienced surgeons were able to safely perform some of the most difficult revisional procedures without increasing morbidity, compared with more experienced surgeons. The data suggest that, with robotic assistance, surgeons early in their career can take on some of the bigger cases and expect outcomes similar to those of more experienced surgeons, Dr. Afaneh said.

Robotics has demonstrated improved outcomes in managing patients with GERD, which has become a common problem after bariatric surgery, noted Dr. Afaneh. When he and his colleagues reviewed data from their center on robotic-assisted approaches to GERD after bariatric surgery, they found that, even in primary magnetic sphincter operations, “robotics maintains comparable outcomes in revisional sleeve gastrectomy fields,” he said.

Another notable benefit of robotics in bariatric surgery is the negation of the “assistant effect,” said Dr. Afaneh. Often, less experienced surgeons are matched with less experienced assistants. “We took a look at the use of the robotic in cases of complex GI surgeries,” he said. They compared laparoscopic and robotic cases and stratified them by third-year assistant or fellow. “If you had a fellow, the operative time dropped by half an hour for laparoscopic cases, but the time was no different in robotics cases,” regardless of the use of fellow or third-year assistant, he said.

“The robotic platform allows you to assist yourself,” and allows for full surgeon autonomy, Dr. Afaneh emphasized. “You are the best person at predicting your next step.” The robotics platform also serves as a teaching tool. “For those who teach, there is no added morbidity based on the assistance of the trainee,” he said. In addition, the improved visualization of robotics “allows for better appreciation of scarred tissue planes and more precise suturing,” he noted.

Overall, “one of the values of the robotic platform is shortening the learning curve,” Dr. Afaneh said. He reviewed data from his fellows and himself, and found no difference in operative times. “My mentee was able to achieve operative times as good as my third year in practice. The robotic platform shaved off several years of learning experience,” he said. Dr. Afaneh’s operative times also decreased with robotics, which shows how experienced surgeons learn from this technology, he said.

Dr. Afaneh disclosed serving as a consultant for Intuitive Surgical.

Global Academy for Medical Education and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.

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