Dr. Robert Poston

Dr. Robert Poston brings his 12 years of experience to Northwest Medical Center and now performs assisted robotic cardiac surgeries.

Nationally acclaimed for his research and procedures with the robotic-assisted cardiac surgery, Dr. Robert Poston now brings his 12 years of experience to Northwest Medical Center.

Poston graduated from John Hopkins University School of Medicine, completed his general-surgery residency at the San Francisco Medical Center and his research fellowship at Stanford University Medical Center. In 2002, under the guidance of Dr. Bartley Griffith, Poston had his first clinical appointment, and in 2004 was asked to conduct further research on the cardiac robot – a request that did not appeal to him.

Two years prior, the cardiac robot was approved for use. Initially it was used by heart surgeons at prestigious centers, but eventually faded out due to a lack of management, according to Poston. Coalitions didn’t support the product and few programs kept the robot for cardiac surgery. Due to the lack of success and disinterest in the robot, Poston wasn’t quick to accept the request. 

“I resisted, but they kept coming back. I agreed to sit down with the robot,” said Poston. “You see the power of that tool and as soon as I sat down, within 10 minutes I was like, ‘This is not a difficult machine.’ It’s such an elegant machine.”

The cardiac robot provides three-dimensional viewing and consists of multiple arms that mimic the surgeon’s normal hand, wrist, arm and finger movements. Each arm also provides a small range of motion, scaled movements and no tremor, which allows for more precision. There are about 2,000 robots nationwide, but only 20 hospitals use them for heart surgery.

The biggest advantage in using the cardiac robot is that the procedure is minimally invasive in comparison to open-heart surgery. The smaller incision also results in a quicker recovery. Though the robot isn’t the best option for every heart surgery, it has proven effective in the following surgeries: valve surgery, cardiac tissue ablation, heart defect repair, bypass, tumor removal and coronary artery, according to John Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

Disadvantages to the robot would be that it is a “one man operation” type of machine and therefore it doesn’t work for all operations and many surgeons still aren’t on board for using the robot for heart surgery. 

“In heart surgery it’s been slow largely because some of the programs that have been largely prestigious are saying that it’s not safe,” said Poston in regards to the use of the cardiac robot. “They had these cases that took eight to 10 hours and the patients did poorly - well that has more to do with the team around you being efficient, and helping you and you all working as a unit then it has to do with a defect in the concept of robotics.”

Though technical problems may be a concern, Poston reassures that the cardiac robot rarely has any technical problems. A console is connected via the Internet to the headquarters. There the robot is constantly monitored and every function is logged so that if anything malfunctions during a surgery it can immediately be fixed.

Poston has written more than 100 scientific papers and has performed 850 surgeries with the cardiac robot. His surgical skills have been welcomed at the Northwest Medical Center, where he now works. Northwest Medical is the only hospital in southern Arizona that offers robotic assisted cardiac surgery to patients.

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