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Latest surgical aids in operation at St. Margaret

Tawnya Panizzi
| Saturday, May 25, 2002

PITTSBURGH: At the sound of Thomas Worrall's voice, the lights dim in a UPMC St. Margaret operating room. With the surgeon's next command, a robotic arm readies an instrument for Worrall to perform minimally invasive surgery.

"All those commands to the computer used to be commands to us," said Deborah Ryan of Apollo, a staff nurse. "This is wonderful technology. Now, instead of running around, you have those five extra minutes to get a blanket for a patient."

Computer-integrated surgical suites are among the cutting-edge amenities that have been unveiled at St. Margaret, in conjunction with a $9.5 million upgrade at the facility.

Robotic surgery first appeared at St. Margaret in January 2000, and the improvements were a

natural next step. The four new surgical suites feature movable suspended booms that have a three-fold benefit:

  • To create a clutter-free environment for surgeons and staff.

  • To speed turnover time, or the preparation necessary for surgery.

  • To allow voice activation and video output of surgeries.

    With the equipment stationed permanently on the suspended boom, nurses have more time to direct toward the patient, according to Janine Crider of Cheswick, who has worked 20 years at St. Margaret.

    "It's less wear and tear on us," Crider said. "The equipment is already here, we don't have to drag it in and out. It is more about tending to patients and people."

    St. Margaret is only the third facility in the 17-member UPMC Health System to offer the "operating rooms of tomorrow." Presbyterian and Magee-Womens hospitals also provide the latest equipment.

    Peggy Uhring, head of the surgical nursing staff, said patients should not fear impersonal care because of the computer-assisted procedures.

    "It looks like it's all computerized, but it's people working it," said Uhring of Plum.

    Construction on the 4,200-square-foot expansion began in December 2000 and was spurred by a 15 percent increase in the number of surgeries performed during the past two years. The hospital has seen an increase from 650 to about 800 surgeries per month since 1999.

    That boom was facilitated by the closing of Citizens General Hospital in New Kensington, an area where St. Margaret has made a concerted effort in outreach.

    "There was an opportunity for growth, and we grabbed it," said Worrall, St. Margaret's director of surgical services. "We are

    geographically desirable. We offer Oakland-type care in a community setting," he said.

    The addition of four new operating rooms increased surgical capacity by 50 percent.

    Each suite is equipped with cameras that relay real-time photos to a nursing station control hub, aimed at increasing efficiency and allowing more reliable communication with each operating room.

    "It's like air-traffic control, you can see the room and what's happening at that moment," Worrall said.

    The video communications allow a sneak peak of the future, according to Marcia Cook, assistant vice president at St. Margaret. Soon, surgeons will be able to consult physicians from across the world while operating. "No hospital in Pittsburgh has this efficiency," Worrall said.

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