In 2003, the idea of robotic surgery was considered by some surgeons to be futuristic or a gimmick.

But innovation led Epworth HealthCare to become the first hospital group in the Asia Pacific region to purchase a surgical robot. The first robotic operation in Australia was performed on a prostate cancer patient at Epworth Richmond, 20 years ago this month.

Robotic surgery at Epworth has grown from one surgical robot to almost 20 robots.  In 2022, robots were used to perform more than 2,500 procedures across Epworth hospitals.

Epworth Richmond uses robots for orthopaedic, urology, general, cardiac, ear nose and throat and spinal surgery. 

Robots for joint replacement surgery were introduced at Epworth in 2017.

Dr Andrew Tang, Director of the orthopaedic surgery robotic program, said since then more than 2,500 procedures have been performed across Epworth.

“This includes hip, knee and partial knee replacements,” Dr Tang said.

“Epworth has a variety of robotic platforms available for surgeons to use.”

Epworth Freemasons uses robots for urology, gynaecology, thoracic and general surgery. 

Orthopaedic surgery at Epworth Eastern is performed using three different types of robots while Epworth Geelong also has three robotic platforms. 

In 2003, when urologist Professor Tony Costello performed the first robotic operation at Epworth, training was limited. 

“There were no textbooks or training videos,” Prof Costello said.

Epworth was an early adopter of robotic technology and we soon became leaders in the field, developing a program to train 53 international surgeons at Epworth.
- Prof Costello
Prof Costello has written the first robotic surgery textbook. Epworth surgeons including Ben Dixon have contributed to the 800-page book.

Urologist, Dr Fairleigh Reeves, was involved in editing the textbook.

She said robotic technology has brought surgeons from different specialties together, benefitting patients.

“Even though we are operating on different organs, ultimately, we are all surgeons doing similar work and surgical robots enable us to learn from each other. High-definition video taken by robots helps us to collaborate with surgeons from around the world.”

In July 2023, 1,400 surgeons gathered in Melbourne for a conference to discuss the latest in robotic surgery.

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