A commitment to collaboration and education — surgical robotics at Emory Healthcare

Successful robotic surgery service lines require continuous investment even after the program is well-established. This investment is not limited to capital expenditures, but also includes consistent strategic meetings and facilitating peer collaboration and participation in educational opportunities. Thus, it is important that hospitals looking to advance their robotic surgery programs take advantage of opportunities that allow for dedicated learning and networking with teams overseeing robotics programs across the country.

Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare is an early adopter of da Vinci surgical robotic systems. The health system launched its robotics program in 2002, initially using the systems only for cardiac procedures, said Sherry Rogers, Director of Robotics for the health system. Emory's robotics program has since evolved into a service line, offering robotic surgery options across seven specialties. All five hospitals within the Emory system offer robotic surgery. There are 13 robotic systems and 115 robotically trained surgeons across all the hospitals conducting more than 3,000 da Vinci surgical procedures each year.

Though Emory Healthcare has a wealth of experience in the robotics arena, the team behind its robotic surgery service line recognized that untapped growth potential lay in networking and educational conferences. The Emory team spoke with Becker's about why they chose to attend the Intuitive 360 users conference, the insights they gained and what advice they have for first-time attendees.

An opportunity for learning and networking
The Intuitive 360 users conference is an annual event offering attendees the opportunity to engage with peers, grow their knowledge of robotics and learn about future trends in the field. Now in its fifth year, the conference usually hosts about 1,500 healthcare leaders and offers sessions for all members of a hospital's robotics team — from the clinical, operational and executive leadership pillars.

Emory Healthcare, which has attended the conference twice thus far, decided to attend primarily for two reasons: one was to grow and improve their program, and the second was that the conference presented a team-building opportunity.

"When we are here at work, we don't really get a lot of opportunities to sit and chat specifically about robotics outside our quarterly meetings," said Manu Sancheti, MD, Director of Robotic Thoracic Surgery at Emory Healthcare and Chief of Division of Thoracic Surgery at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta. "So, having the opportunity to be away from work for a few days and have that peer-to-peer time internally was excellent."

In addition, the conference gave the Emory team the opportunity to connect with their peers from around the world and learn from the successes and the challenges they were facing, said Ms. Rogers.

Preparing for the conference
To prepare, those attending the conference first met with other Emory robotics team members and staff to ensure the team's goals and expectations were aligned prior to attending the conference, said Dr. Sancheti.

The team also examined the agenda and decided beforehand which sessions would be most relevant for them, including sessions most applicable for their specialties as well as sessions outside of their usual area of expertise. For example, Ankit Patel, MD, Co-Chair of the Robotic Steering Committee at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital, said that he went to sessions focused on service line administration, which on the surface didn't seem like they would be pertinent to his interests.

"[I went to those sessions] just to hear the language and lingo that is used," he said. "As surgeons, we talk one way and then the business side and the administration hear things quite differently. I wanted to be able to a create common language."

And that is one advantage of prepping beforehand — identifying specific sessions that will help you grow the service line, even if it is outside your wheelhouse, Dr. Patel said.

Another key aspect of preparation for the Emory team was partnering with their representative from Intuitive, who aligned with all members attending the conference on what they wanted to get out of it and then helped the team decide which sessions would be most useful for them.

Ms. Rogers also said that they were very deliberate about selecting the physicians who would attend the conference.

"I really looked for those physicians who are very motivated for the program — not just their specialty," she said. "Those are the physicians who should go because they are going to lift your program up."

Conference strategy and goals
During the conference, the team tried to spread out and attend as many sessions as they could.

The Emory team took a "divide and conquer" approach, Ms. Rogers said, going to different sessions and coming together at the end of each day to exchange notes. They understood through collaboration with their Intuitive representative that if you bring a group of four-five people from a hospital, they should cast a wide net and never really be in the same room together.

The team's goals ranged from system-level goals to more specific operational goals at the hospital-level. Goals included reducing turnover times, trying to increase utilization of the systems and upgrading their fleet of robotic systems, she said.

The conference helped them identify where they could improve their efficiencies and where they had maxed out, which helped them build the case for the upgrade, Dr. Patel added.

After coming back from the conference, the team put down all that they learned and what wanted to accomplish with their robotics program. Emory's Intuitive representative helped keep the team on track regarding its goals, sending follow-up emails, creating a list and assigning tasks to different people, said Ms. Rogers.

"That was invaluable for us," she added.

"Both Emory and St. Joseph's continue to invest and support the robotics program. This past year in 2019 at Emory St. Joseph's we completed just a little over 11,000 surgeries performed robotically," said Kevin Andrew, Chief Operating Officer at Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital.

"An interesting note for us here, when you look at the Emory Healthcare System, we make up about 17 percent of the beds but from a robotic surgery standpoint we represent 33 percent of the total systems robotic volume," he added.

The health system has since upgraded the robotic systems at all five of its hospitals, and it has been successful in reducing robotic surgery turnover times in some specialties.

But the Emory team is already looking ahead to the next conference.

"We're always thinking of what our next goal is," Dr. Sancheti said. "None of us here at Emory are happy just reaching a point and stopping."



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