DeFatta isn't the only throat and neck cancer surgeon who is enthusiastic about the possibilities of the da Vinci.
"It is the paradigm shift in our treatment, with minimally invasive robotic surgery that leaves patients with improved ability to swallow and speak and function," Tod C. Huntley, MD, FACS, co-director of head and neck cancer services at St. Vincent's Health System in Indianapolis told me for an article in the January issue of HealthLeaders Magazine.
Patients are now discharged in less than five days as opposed to multiple weeks of inpatient recovery from the traditional surgery, Huntley says.
In his field, DeFatta says it appears the da Vinci robot will be increasingly put to use in surgeries for obstructive sleep apnea when it is caused by the collapse of the upper airway due to a large tongue base. He says patients that have the TORs procedure typically go home in two to three days, compared to 10 days with conventional surgery.
In ECRI's opinion, the da Vinci is part of potential "costly robot wars" in healthcare. The organization's report says that although proponents tout the da Vinci's improved visualization capabilities, as well as its precision and dexterity, "real unanswered questions are how much value they add, and, more importantly, how and when they definitely improve patient care and long-term outcomes."
While ECRI cites cardiology and other procedures used with the da Vinci, it also mentions head and neck cancer surgery, where doctors say it appears to be opening doors to improve patient care.
But the robots are used in many procedures, and there are still unanswered questions about them, not unlike the incomplete scientific and artistic picture left by da Vinci the man. Despite ECRI's viewpoint, the enthusiasm expressed by certain surgeons using the device show that the full story of the medical robot is still incomplete. Much more needs to be studied, and written.