Ask the Expert: How does robotic knee surgery work?
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

This healthy-at-home holiday season is leading to a big demand for surgeries that people have been putting off during the pandemic.

Those who need joint replacements are not only getting into the operating room, they are getting COVID-safe procedures and some high-tech help.

With so many of us not able to travel for the holidays, those in need of essential surgery are choosing to use this stay-at-home time for recovery time, if possible.

If you need hip or knee joint replacement, experts at St. Elizabeth Healthcare and surgeons with OrthoCincy are now using new technology to help you get back on your feet fast. It provides guidance and precision we have never seen inside the operating room.

The Mako robotic system is a precision instrument that allows surgeons to better dial into the actual mechanics of the knee during surgery, says Dr. Matt Hummel, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in joint reconstruction and accompanying trauma. He's among the first in the country to use this Mako robotic arm-assisted surgery in a number of ways.

Unlike traditional knee and hip replacements where X-rays help give you a two-dimensional plan, this robotic system uses a CT scan that's taken before surgery. It provides a surgical plan ahead of time.

"We're are allowed to essentially -- through a series of simulations, we will dial in how we think mechanically how this knee should operate," said Dr. Hummel.

In surgery then, he can match the patient's anatomy to the CT scan and plan. The robot helps him make precision cuts within one-half of a millimeter of what is planned on the CT scan through signals generated between the plan and the robot.

One of the things that he points out is that this is simply an extension of the surgeon's hands, but it does allow for precision in a whole new way.

"The more precise anything is, whether it's your car tire or a total knee replacement, we are hoping for better form function and longevity out of it," he said.

While the technology is still new, early results show better outcomes from precise alignment and fit in patients' knees.

Now, not every surgeon is trained in this technology yet, but it is expected to soon be the norm for these procedures.