Every now and then, an industry goes through technology disruption. With surgery, that’s come with the introduction of robotics. At Intuitive, we continue to push the envelope to make surgery better. Part of the system is a 3D robotic camera, that goes into the body and allows the surgeon to see what they’re doing. As humans, we use all of our senses, right? We use a sense of sight, the sense of smell, the sense of touch. Surgery has sometimes hampered the full sense of engagement and interaction. As you’ve gone through the continuum of surgery, in an open procedure, the surgeon has the ability to use the full dexterity of their wrists. They can see the surgical site in 3D. Now, they have to make a large incision so they can access the appropriate anatomy, and these large incisions can be a challenge for recovery time for the patient.
In laparoscopic surgery, the minimally invasive approach that followed you actually have to move your hand up to move the tip of the instrument down. Left is right, down is up. And so, the surgeons have to have this mental remapping, as you’re looking at a 2D screen, and the dexterity was completely lost. So when we came in and said, “Alright, we believe that a robotic-assisted approach will be much better,” our first mission was to give back 3D vision and dexterity inside the body.
We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished over the last 24 years. da Vinci systems have been used in more than seven million procedures, and we have more than 5000 systems installed worldwide. The whole point of the robot is to minimize the invasiveness of the surgery so we’re using instruments that are only about eight millimeters in diameter about the size of my pinky finger. Now we’re starting to focus on, how can we show the surgeon things they can’t see with their own eyes? So today the da Vinci system has what we call Firefly, which is a near-infrared imaging system that the surgeon can use to visualize certain structures, like the bile duct during a gallbladder surgery or judging blood flow during a colorectal procedure.
This is just one way that we can help the surgeon gain more information about the structures that they’re working on during the surgery. In April 2017, I was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. I was 48 years old and I faced the prospect that I might not be alive at the same time next year. Is this the last time that I’ll ever go sailing? Will I get to see my kids grow up? Will I outlive my dog? I was fortunate to get an appointment with one of the top prostate surgeons on the WestCoast who also happens to use our robotic-assisted systems. I have two daughters. They saw me go through my own surgery and how for as major surgery is that was, how much of a non-event it was. Went to the hospital one morning, came back the next.
Having a family and to feel the love and connection that we all have for each other, it is really the most meaningful thing in my life. I think about the world that my kids will live in and whether my work will make that world better. Unfortunately during prostatectomy, there’s still a possibility of having residual cancer left in the body. That’s what happened to me. At Intuitive, we talk a lot about improving patient outcomes. That concept can sometimes become abstract.