One of the guest lecturers at the 2nd VATS Peru Uniportal Master course is Dr. William Guido Gerrero from Costa Rica. Dr. Guido talked about the challenges of implementing a minimally invasive thoracic surgery program in the small central american nation that boasts a total population of less than 5 million.
Despite the small population and the low surgical volumes that accompany it; Dr. Guido is one of ten thoracic surgeons in Costa Rica, who are affiliated with two thoracic surgery departments within the nation.
Dr. Guido initially performed his first two uniportal cases with some trepidation. The first cases were simple biopsies and drainage of pleural effusions. He then performed his first lobectomy but it was a slow tedious process. After that experience, he traveled to Shanghai, and the Shanghai Pulmonary Hospital to attend and train with Dr, Diego Gonzalez Rivas in the wet lab, practicing cases on live animals.
At Hospital Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia
Dr. Guido primarily operates in a 350 bed hospital in the capital city of 1.4 million habitants. The thoracic surgery unit consists of eight beds, and cases are performed three days a week with an annual case volume of around 350 cases.
Majority of cases by Uniportal VATS
The majority of surgical cases (67%, includes all types of cases) are performed using the uniportal approach. 31% of the remainder are performed via a traditional ‘open’ approach with only 2% of cases performed using traditional (multiport) VATS. This discrepancy is explaned by Dr. Guido in that there is currently only one thoracoscope in the hospital, and it is not always available. He predicts that the rate of uniportal VATS cases will soon increase, as the second thoracoscope is scheduled to arrive in just a few weeks, followed by a third thoracoscope next year. These equipment limitations are not the only challenges for Dr. Guido and his fellow thoracic surgeons.
Low volumes, suboptimal equipment and a lack of institutional support
The low volume of surgical cases and a lack of institutional support are also problems. Unfortunately, it’s harder to convince the medical community of the value of uniportal VATS (and thus boost surgical volume) than it is to order new equipment. Despite these limitations, Costa Rica also manages to maintain a struggling lung transplantation program, that performs approximately two transplants per year, with five patients with pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension currently on the waiting list.
Excellent care, at home
Dr. Guido hopes that many of these problems can be resolved in the future. He wants Costa Rican patients to feel that they can stay in Costa Rica for their thoracic surgery without making any sacrifices in care. He’s already lost one patient to Dr. Gonzalez Rivas himself (when the patient traveled to Spain for surgery) and another to the United States (where the patient ended up getting an open thoracotomy). Losing a patient to the Master of Uniportal Surgery himself is inevitable, but losing a patient to a country where the patient received an inferior procedure at an exorbitant cost is a bit harder to swallow.
Best of luck to Dr. Guido and his colleagues.