A large robot looms over a sterile surgical table while its white-clad operator hovers over a complex control console at the far end of the room. Reminiscent of a Star Trek set, the truth is better than pulp fiction: TriHealth hospitals’ investment in robotic-assisted surgery is improving the quality of life for Greater Cincinnati patients.

The TriHealth hospitals — Good Samaritan in Clifton and Bethesda North in Montgomery — have a reputation for advancements. Good Sam purchased the region’s first robotic surgery system in 2003, bringing the term “daVinci surgery” into common use here. (daVinci is the brand name of the system sold by Intuitive Medical.) Good Sam became one of 23 daVinci training sites for doctors internationally, including those from the Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Bethesda North, with its strong reputation for treating vascular disorders, followed suit by acquiring its daVinci in 2007.

Dr. Michael Maggio, a board-certified urologist, has been performing robotic-assisted surgery at Good Samaritan since 2005. He practiced at Duke and Walter Reed medical centers before coming to Cincinnati, and he is amazed at TriHealth’s foresight. “There are not too many things that revolutionize medicine like this ... it has significant historical perspective,” Maggio says.

The daVinci robot — or ISRG, as it is called — is currently used for cardiac procedures such as mitral valve repair and coronary bypass grafts, lobectomy (removing a lobe of the lung or other organ) and gynecological cancer surgeries. But what’s really turning heads is its use in prostatectomies, the surgical removal of the prostate gland .

“The process is really incredible,” Maggio exclaims. “Instead of a large incision, we make five robotic ‘pokeholes’ with the laproscopic arms that are controlled by a physician at a console. A camera is then placed inside, exposing all of the internal organs, magnifying them 10 times.”

According to Maggio, this vastly improved visibility enables the surgeon to control blood loss and spare nerves from damage. The result men want to hear: lower incidence of postsurgical incontinence or impotence, fewer complications such as blood clots or even heart attacks — and shorter hospital stays.

TriHealth concluded these results justify the investment required in these systems (about $2 million each, plus additional training and other related expenses). Recently published international studies appear to back the claims that robotic-assisted prostatectomy dramatically lowers the rates of incontience and impotence.

“The potential (for robotic-assisted surgery) is endless,” Maggio says. TriHealth hospitals are now usingcomputerized navigation technology for orthopedic surgery and cardiac ablation.