North Valley Starts Using ‘Game-Changing’ Robotic Technology for Knee Replacements

Whitefish hospital has completed more than 80 knee surgeries with robotic arm-assisted technology

By Justin Franz
The north entrance of North Valley Hospital in Whitefish, as seen on May 16. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

North Valley Hospital has become one of the first in the region to do knee surgeries with robotic-arm technology that officials say is helping lead to less pain and quicker recoveries.

Janie Nutter Wagner, 73, of Columbia Falls was one of the first people to get a knee surgery at North Valley with the assistance of the robotic arm. The surgery, which took place last November, was her second knee replacement, and she said the operation with the robot was much more comfortable.

“It was like night and day,” she said.

Dr. Timothy Joyce said that prior to beginning surgery, a CT scan of the patient’s knee is completed to get a full 3D image of the bone before any cuts are made. The information from the scan helps the robotic arm — made by Stryker — make more precise cuts during surgery. Joyce, who has worked for Kalispell Regional Healthcare and North Valley Hospital for three years, likened the technology to going from analogue to digital.

“Although surgeons can do very precise cuts, this technology helps us make them even more accurate,” he said.

Wagner said she ignored her knee pain for years until she couldn’t any longer. She had her first surgery on her left knee two years ago and remembers having an extended recovery. However, when she started to feel pain in her right knee last year, she knew she needed to have it taken care of as soon as possible. When she started talking with Joyce about the operation, the doctor suggested they use the robotic arm.

“Dr. Joyce thought it would be better with the robot, and it really was,” she said. “I can’t complain at all about it.”

Wagner said because few incisions were made during the surgery, she was able to start her recovery exercises the same day as the surgery. She also needed few painkillers in the days and weeks that followed.

Joyce said the robotic arm technology has been around for more than a decade but has only been widely used in the last few years. He said that’s particularly important because studies have shown that knee replacements in the United States will increase by 189 percent by 2030.

“This technology is optimizing outcomes and minimizing complications,” he said. “This is where things are going in the future.”

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