Orthopedic knee and hip replacements, once considered a sign of a person’s final years, have become a normal part of life for the aging Baby Boomer population and even younger adults. 

Between 2005 and 2030, the overall demand for hip replacement in the U.S. is estimated to grow by 174%, while the demand for total knee repairs, arthroplasties, is projected to grow by 673%, according to a 2007 study published by the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. The study also anticipated that the number of revision surgeries, or surgeries to replace worn out implants, using traditional methods will more than double during that time.

In January, Dr. Matthew Morrey of Ortho San Antonio, a partner of the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Health System, became the first surgeon in the city to use robot-assisted partial knee resurfacing and total hip replacement procedures for adults with early to mid-stage osteoarthritis.

The MAKOplasty procedures use the RIO Robotic Arm Interactive Orthopedic System, a robotic arm that assists doctors to remove diseased joint areas more accurately while leaving healthy surrounding tissue and bone untouched.

“MAKOplasty allows for more precision (than) traditional surgery (which) has become more precise over the years,” Morrey said. “Robotics has allowed doctors to become even more precise in positioning bone sections, and hip and knee replacement.”

Life expectancy for traditional knee and hip replacements is between 10 to 15 years, Morrey said, but the MAKOplasty procedures allow for more precision and increases the replacement’s lifespan up to 20 to 30 years.

This could allow people who are suffering from osteoarthritis to get knee and hip replacement surgery earlier, and thereby cut down the increased health risk associated with surgery at an advanced age.

People are leading longer and more active lives than ever before, Morrey said, and the number of orthopedic implants, revision surgeries, time spent in hospitals, and health costs is expected to increase as well.

Most hospitals in other major cities have been using the technology behind RIO and MAKOplasty for years, but San Antonio is “always a bit behind the times and the trends,” he said.

Many patients are nervous when they hear that a robot is involved, but the robot is just a tool that allows doctors to cut down on a lack of precision. Morrey has already performed several successful surgeries since January, and he expects other area hospitals and surgeons will soon follow suit.

”We are proud to be the first to use this innovative technology in San Antonio,” said Chris Bowe, president and administrator at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital at the Medical Center.

Surgeons using MAKOplasty procedure take a CT scan of the patient’s affected joint to develop a pre-surgery plan, and use the robot to guide the positioning of the bone and implant. Once the implant is in place, the doctor secures the joint to allow for normal movement.

The cost of orthopedic surgeries varies between hospitals and the type of treatment. The cost of a knee replacement surgery in Dallas could range between $16,772 and $61,585 depending on the hospital, according to a 2015 report from Blue Cross Blue Shield. The overall cost of orthopedic surgeries has more than tripled in the past decade, and health care professionals see those costs continuing to grow.

There is no real difference between the initial costs of traditional surgery and MAKOplasty at this time, but the newer technology allows for better recovery time and is less likely to require revision surgeries for patients.

Older patients are less likely to embrace the technology, Morrey said.

“New technology seems to be adapted by a younger patient population,” he said, adding that patients who are comfortable using the internet are more likely to gravitate toward robotic types of technology. He assures patients that the robot only helps increase the accuracy of the surgery, but that the doctor performs the actual surgery and implants the joint replacement.

Though the MAKOplasty technology has only been applied to partial knee and total hip replacements, he anticipates that surgeons will be able to adapt the technology to include total knee replacement as well as other joints including ankle and shoulder.

“This is really a game changer, and a major (improvement) in health (options) for San Antonio,” Morrey said.

Individuals interested in learning more about available operating hours and services at CHRISTUS can make appointments online by visiting www.christushealth.org/ortho-sa or by calling 210-705-5060 for more information.


*Top Image: Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Matthew Morrey preps a hip for replacement using the MAKOplasty robotic tool. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson, a former reporter at the Rivard Report, is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events.