System News

Tuesday, May 16, 2023 - Practicing with precision: Robotic technology at Roper St. Francis Healthcare

Roper St. Francis Healthcare ranks No. 2 nationally for its team’s colorectal robotic expertise.  

Colorectal Surgeon Dr. Jorge Lagares-García and his team recently performed their 1,500th robotic colorectal procedure at Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital. 

While the milestone marks a massive achievement for colorectal services, it also demonstrates how the healthcare system is giving patients access to the latest technology, which offers them more agency in their healthcare choices.  

“Dr. Lagares-García has once again demonstrated his incredible expertise,” said Ashleigh Wiedemann, associate vice president of the Surgical Services and Digestive Diseases IPN and chief administrative officer at RSF Mount Pleasant Hospital. “This accomplishment is huge. It says a lot about the team’s commitment and it’s yet another way for us to give our patients access to cutting edge innovation.” 

Making strides  

Roper St. Francis Healthcare had a vision in 2010 to establish a robotic colorectal program when it recruited Dr. Lagares-García, who held clinical academic appointments of Surgery at Warren Alpert Brown University and Boston University and ran as program director the colorectal surgery residency program at R.I. Colorectal Clinic. 

The system became the first in the Southeast to premiere robotic surgery with the da Vinci Surgical System and it has since remained committed, offering the best expertise. Dr. Lagares-García helped expand the robotics program to other areas such as general surgery, and it now is offered as a standard surgical option in multiple specialties, including bariatrics, urology, gynecology and thoracics.  

For years, Roper Hospital had the system’s only robots but as the program grew, robots were added across all RSFH hospitals. RSF Berkeley Hospital has had the da Vinci Si since opening in 2019, and in 2021, robotic surgery launched at Bon Secours St. Francis and Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant hospitals.  

In recent years, more and more Roper St. Francis Healthcare physicians have notched major milestones. In 2019, Thoracic Surgeon Dr. Elizabeth Kline marked 500 robotic thoracic procedures and in February this year, General Surgeon Dr. Walter “Bo” Blessing  celebrated 1,000 general surgery cases, making them both experts in their own fields.  

Since 2021, Roper St. Francis Healthcare surgeons have completed over 4,600 robotic procedures in their various specialties using the da Vinci Surgical System. 760 of those were performed in 2023 as of April 30.

“When I first started, not many people believed in robotic surgery,” Dr. Lagares-García said. “Now, we’ve really embraced this new chapter of advanced surgery.” 

More than a milestone 

Dr. Lagares-García’s status as one of the country’s elite robotic surgeons is cemented with the 1,500 milestone, and it also continues the momentum of RSFH’s colorectal services. 

“To know that we have achieved such an impressive status is an honor,” Dr. Lagares-García said. “Kudos to the team. Their hard work, dedication and long hours have paid off.”  

In an age where patients easily can do their own research, some specifically choose Roper St. Francis Healthcare because of its robotic capabilities, said Jennifer Drudy, director of perioperative services. Patients travel from North Carolina, Florida and Georgia for surgery at Roper St. Francis Healthcare because they find reputable physicians who can use the robot.  

“We have what I would call a robust robotic program,” Drudy said. “As it continues to grow, it will further expand our market. For those patients specifically searching for robotic surgery, they can rely on our physicians, which is awesome.”  

The robotic program’s growing reputation also attracts the attention of new surgeons, many of whom have learned how to use the robot in school and are looking for opportunities to continue honing their skills.  

“It’s a great recruiting tool when we’re talking with new physicians,” Drudy said.  

Surgeons also travel to Charleston to observe the team’s efficiency and have attended numerous robotic training programs led by Dr. Lagares-García to expand the use of the technology nationwide, the colorectal surgeon said. 

On the horizon  

Currently, Roper St. Francis Healthcare has a total of six robots – three at Roper Hospital, and one each at Bon Secours St. Francis, Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant and RSF Berkely hospitals. Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital is actively pursuing its second robot and expects it to arrive before the end of the year.  

In addition to growing the number of robots, the program will also continue to expand its services, upgrade existing robots and tap into new technologies, Dr. Lagares-García said.  

Most recently, Roper St. Francis Healthcare was one of three sites in the U.S. that participated in a FDA clinical trial for a new robotic company based in Nebraska, Virtual Incision Corporation, which aims to launch the world’s first miniaturized robotic-assisted surgery system, MIRA Surgical System. Its device, roughly the size of a human arm, is designed to be easily accessible and portable. 

Because Roper St. Francis Healthcare participated in the FDA clearance trial, should the robot be cleared and approved, the system likely will be invited to help spearhead the rollout.  

Dr. Lagares-García expressed his excitement about being at the forefront of witnessing technology evolve.  

“As someone in my 50s, seeing this new technology makes me excited to be a doctor again,” Dr. Lagares-García said. “It’s something new. It’s something I can apply to my practice. And it’s something I can do to offer better options for my patients.”  

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