Doctor regularly using robot in thoracic surgery

It sits in the corner of the operating room at John Muir Medical Center, its multiple arms covered in plastic as it waits to be called into service. Its name is Davinci. It's a robot that can operate on patients in critical life-saving surgeries.

Davinci has been used in various kinds of surgeries, but Dr. Wilson Tsai who is the Co-Medical Director of the Thoracic Program at John Muir Medical Center is credited with breaking new ground in the East Bay with the most robot assisted lobectomies.

When Davinci's arms are in the patient, Doctor Tsai sits several feet away, speaking over a loud speaker to his team. He controls everything Davinci does with his fingers and feet.

He can't see the patient from where he sits, at least not directly. Instead he's looks at a 3-D image of the patient's chest.

"I think I had an advantage because I grew up playing Playstation and the Nintendo" said Tsai. "So it was easier for me to convert that hand-eye coordination to the three-dimensional image from the instruments I feel in my hands."

Robots can have several advantages, the most important being visualization. In traditional chest cavity surgery, surgeons must cut between the ribs, or even spread the ribs but that gives them the best view of their patient. Davinici provides that same view without the large incision.  

It also help cuts down on recovery time and pain.

Dr. Lawrence Silverman just had a lobectomy with Davinci and Dr. Tsai.

"With all my comorbidities, meaning I have many other problems -- my obesity my renal failure my diabetes -- I needed someone to do it who would recognize it with the new methods they had," explained Silverman.  

He says he's not sure that he would have survived traditional surgery methods and Dr. Tsai agrees.

Still Dr. Tsai admits not all of his colleagues are on board.

"With every advancement in technology, there are always people that are hesitant in embracing it primarily it is a new set of skills that people have to learn," said Tsai.

However, Dr. Tsai is convinced that robot assisted surgeries will become more common in the coming years. He has completed around 70 so far and believes in the future 90 percent of his lobectomies and 100 percent of his surgeries involving tumors near the heart and lungs will be with Davinci by his side.

But while technology can be a huge advantage, he also says "A great robot doesn't make a mediocre surgeon better."