Spine surgeons at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services facilities will be getting a hand during procedures — a robotic hand.

Penrose-St. Francis, part of Centura Health, installed the ExcelsiusGPS at Penrose Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center at the start of July. As manufacturer Globus Medical explains on its website, the ExcelsiusGPS combines a rigid robotic arm and full navigation capabilities “for accurate alignment in spine surgery.”

“Spine surgery is a game of millimeters,” said Dr. Douglas Crowther, a spine surgeon with Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence who performs most of his surgeries at St. Francis. “If you have a screw that’s off just a couple of millimeters and touching a nerve or compressing a nerve, the patient could have chronic pain.”

The Globus Medical website details how minimally invasive surgery is done with the help of the ExcelsiusGPS: On the day of surgery, medical images are taken and imported into the ExcelsiusGPS. The surgeon uses those images to determine the size and placement of screws and to create a surgical plan specific to the patient’s anatomy.

That plan guides the robotic arm to a specific region of the spine, similar to a planned route or pathway on a GPS. The surgeon uses this route to place screws using instruments. The surgical instruments and implants are continuously displayed on the screen for the surgeon and staff to view during surgery.

Crowther trained on the ExcelsiusGPS while completing his fellowship at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

Robot-assisted surgery in other areas, such as general surgery and urology, is not new, but robot-assisted spine surgery has only taken off in recent years.

Crowther considers the Globus system the best in terms of accuracy and user-friendliness.

“It allows us to take that navigation and robotic arm to show us our trajectory and guide us where we should be placing hardware safely in the spine. ... From the surgeon’s standpoint, it allows us to go home at night and rest assured that the hardware is where it should be.”

The ExcelsiusGPS allows for more precise screw placement into the spine and decreased time in the operating room, said Heather Richards, director of orthopedics and neurosciences at Penrose-St. Francis.

It also makes it safer for both patient and provider in terms of radiation exposure. During surgery, “oftentimes doctors will use fluoroscopy or additional radiography to take a picture and then place a screw,” she said, which exposes patients — and providers — to more radiation. The targeting capability of the robot system eliminates that need for further imaging. And less time in the operating room means less time under anesthesia.

Penrose-St. Francis is the first in southern Colorado to have the ExcelsiusGPS. Centura declined to detail the cost of the system, but Richards called it “a tactical investment” to secure “the right technology for our doctors to be on the leading edge.”

“I think we’re going to see a lot more robotics in the future, especially with increasing minimally invasive procedures,” Richards said.

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