More Precision, Less Pain: Robotic Arm-Assisted Hip & Knee Replacements

As Penn Highlands Healthcare expands and advances to provide our communities with local access to world-class healthcare services, this month the Penn Highlands Orthopedics team, along with the health system’s leaders, are celebrating an exciting new advancement now available to Penn Highlands joint replacement patients. Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Clearfield have introduced robotic-assisted surgery for hip and knee replacement procedures.

Penn Highlands now offers joint replacement procedures using Mako SmartRobotics, a surgeon-guided robotic arm whose assistance is demonstrated to enhance patients’ results following hip and knee replacements. Manufactured by Stryker, one of the world’s leading medical technology companies, Mako (pronounced MAY-ko) can lead to smaller incisions, less blood loss, preservation of healthy bone, and ultimately faster recovery than traditional hip and knee replacements.

In recent years, robot-assisted medical procedures have influenced a paradigm shift in medicine. For physicians, robotic technology can facilitate less invasiveness and greater access to anatomy that’s otherwise difficult to reach, as well as maximum targeted precision down to the finest metrics of the patient’s physiology. “It’s important for our patients to understand that their Penn Highlands surgeon is still the one performing the procedure,” says Dr. Keith Zeliger, orthopedic surgeon at Penn Highlands Elk. “Based on medical imaging of the patient’s procedure site, we’re able to guide the robot to perform tasks that transcend human capability, no matter how exceptional the surgeon’s record is. Robotics are one more example of how medicine continues to progress. It’s a major development for us to bring Mako here.”

The Mako robotic arm serves up a new approach to joint replacement surgery that offers the potential for a higher level of patient-specific implant alignment and positioning. The technology starts with a CT scan that’s downloaded into the robot’s software to create a personalized 3D plan based on the patient’s unique physiology. Then, once in the operating room, the surgeon can validate the patient’s plan and make any technical adjustments accordingly. This offers the surgeon unprecedented predictability—and thus, an optimized healing and recovery experience for patients.

Mako’s advantages can deliver the most optimal outcomes and higher satisfaction for patients. While traditional joint replacements can sometimes require several months of recovery before a patient can return to some normal routine activities, in some cases, Mako has the potential decrease recovery time by as much as half. Recovery after Mako may also include less swelling and pain than traditional knee replacement surgery.

“Looking at the needs and demographics for our region, our Orthopedics program at Penn Highlands is a growing focus for us,” says Zeliger. Dr. Mark Nartatez, orthopedic surgeon at Penn Highlands Clearfield, says this is a win for patients in the area, especially as Penn Highlands is the only healthcare organization in the region offering Mako-assisted surgery outside of Pittsburgh, Erie, and Geisinger in Lewistown. “We want the best technology, the safest surgery, and the fastest, most painless recovery possible for our patients,” Nartatez says.

Penn Highlands DuBois orthopedic surgeon Dr. Matthew Varacallo says integrating this type of advancement into Penn Highlands’ services is part of the reason he wanted to return home to practice orthopedic surgery. “For orthopedics patients in particular, it can be painful and very inconvenient to travel distances for a procedure. At Penn Highlands, we’re committed to providing the most groundbreaking services available. As our orthopedics program grows, it is very much on the map with other large hospital systems in the state, and we’re continually executing strategies to keep moving in this direction. Mako is the newest addition to our line of cutting-edge orthopedic treatments and innovative technologies that are now locally and routinely available to all Penn Highlands patients.”

Beginning in 2022, the orthopedics program will be headquartered in the Penn Highlands DuBois Center of Excellence, for which construction got underway this summer as part of the Master Facilities Plan that the health system announced in 2018. However, patients looking for state-of-the-art services and high-reliability joint replacements don’t have to wait. On Saturday, August 15, Stryker was onsite at PH Clearfield to present a certification training for five Penn Highlands Orthopedics surgeons: Dr. Mark Nartatez, Dr. Ashishkumar Patel, Dr. Mitchell Rothenberg, Dr. Matt Varacallo, and Dr. Keith Zeliger. Several patients have already undergone hip and knee replacement procedures that have been assisted by Mako at both Penn Highlands DuBois and Penn Highlands Clearfield. “So far, our patients have been thrilled to experience joint replacement with Mako,” Varacallo says. “Our goal is to see them getting back to what they love, as soon as possible.”

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