Amid the financial losses of the pandemic, local surgeons have jumped at a huge price drop that made it possible to buy the most advanced robotic knee surgery tool on the market.
Both Saratoga Hospital — through OrthoNY — and Glens Falls Hospital now have the Mako robotic arm, which makes joint surgeries more precise.
“It’s sort of like buying a dress shirt versus buying a tailored dress shirt,” said Dr. Bill O’Connor, who used the robot for the first time last week in a knee surgery at Saratoga Hospital.
Using the tools he had before, patients were happy with their knee replacements about 80% of the time, he said.
“And we don’t know why,” he added. “I think we’re taking that balancing issue — now (with the robotic help) we’re talking about balancing both sides of the joint in flexion and extension.”
With the Mako robotic arm, early indications from other hospitals show that about 95% of patients are happy with their new knee, he said. The robot has been available for about four years.
The robot helps surgeons become so precise that the artificial knee performs better. He wanted to bring that to local patients, but the robot cost $1.3 million to $1.5 million.
“With things shutting down in New York state, I think it made the industry side look at things differently,” he said. “Suddenly (manufacturer) Stryker Corp. made obtaining the robot much more affordable.”
He loves it already.
Using previous tools, surgeons sometimes could not get the replacement knee perfectly aligned.
“The goal with knee replacement is to achieve a balance of 90 degrees. If you drop a plumb line from the center of the hip to the center of the ankle, you want the line, unbent, to fall in the center of the knee,” he said.
About 6% of the time, that didn’t happen.
“The old fashioned tools we used were pretty good about 94% of the time,” he said. “Mako is 99%.”
The robot does not perform the surgery. It is an extension of the surgeon’s hands, and it helps the surgeon follow the plan that the surgeon designed in advance.
“We control the trigger on the saw, but if I try to trick the robot into cutting beyond the boundaries we’ve set, I can’t go more than one millimeter beyond the boundaries I’ve decided on,” he said.
He can change the plan if he discovers something that he did not anticipate.
It’s too soon to know if Saratoga Hospital will see the same increase in patient satisfaction that other surgeons are reporting. O’Connor will report back after doing a few hundred knee replacements with the robot. That won’t be long: he and his four partners at OrthoNY do eight to 10 joint replacements a week.
Hip replacements have, in recent years, garnered a high satisfaction rating from patients, and O’Connor is hoping the Mako robot will bring knee replacements into the same realm.
But it’s important to note that the vast majority of patients were happy with their new joints before the robot — including O’Connor himself, who had a hip replacement two years ago.
“My hip replacement is the fourth best thing that ever happened to me after my wife, children and profession. It really was life-changing for me,” he said. “It’s changed my perspective in how I talk to patients.”
Previously, he “soft-pedaled” joint replacements, which require intensive physical therapy after surgery.
“You have to work at it,” he said.
But once he experienced firsthand how much people lose when they can’t use a joint without pain, he began to see joint replacement as a far better option.
“I’ve become a little more of a pusher for joint replacement,” he said. “I got so bad I didn’t want to walk to the mailbox to get the mail. Honestly, I’ve gotten my life back.”
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.