Local company Exactech's GPS adds precision to knee surgeries


Xeve Silver, product manager for ExactechGPS, demonstrates the ExactechGPS on a fake knee at Exactech Monday, March 3, 2014.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 4:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, March 9, 2014 at 4:38 p.m.

When Dr. Scott Myers, an orthopedic surgeon at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center, begins knee replacement surgery these days, he feels a little like he does when he's setting out on a road trip, plugging his destination into his GPS.

In the operating room, Myers is charting the course of knee operations — defining exactly how much of the original knee he will remove, as well as the exact size of the replacement knee.

Using a wireless titanium probe, Myers digs inside the knee area to define the parameters for knee removal and replacement.

On a computer screen directly in front of the operating table are 3-D images of the patient's knee as well as measurements — in millimeters and degrees — charting the course of the surgery.

"It's much more accurate in making cuts (than traditional tools)," Myers said. "It's aptly named. It takes you right where you want to go."

Invented by the Gainesville company Exactech, the GPS, which actually stands for guided personalized surgery, is conceptually analogous to being guided by a global positioning system, or GPS, in a car.

"We're giving (the surgeons) that real-time feedback," said Xeve Silver, Exactech's product manager for the company's GPS. The computer screen actually shows in real time what the surgeon is doing and will signal a cut that's too deep or too shallow.

Using Exactech's GPS also involves using fewer instruments than surgeons have traditionally used, Silver added. And importantly, it also cuts out the need for a lot of imaging such as MRIs, which can be expensive.

Studies have shown that surgeons' results have improved about 20 percent using the GPS, Silver said.

That coincides with Myers' experience.

"There's no question in my mind that it makes what we are doing more accurate," Myers said. "I've been doing this for 25 years, and I think it makes me a better surgeon."

The emergence of the GPS coincides with Exactech's 20-year anniversary of its prosthetic knee replacements. Company President David Petty said the GPS "is the culmination" of nearly 30 years in the orthopedics business.

"It takes the technology that's available and brings it to the operating table," Petty said.

The company, which Petty's father, orthopedic surgeon Dr. William (Bill) Petty, co-founded 29 years ago, is one of Gainesville's three publicly traded companies and has 600 employees in 10 locations throughout the world.

David Petty said the bottom-line goal of improving patient outcomes ended up being a good business plan as well.

For hospitals, too, Myers said he anticipates cost savings using the GPS system. Although the upfront costs are somewhat more for the system, "there are big-picture savings" from more accurate procedures and fewer repeat procedures, Myers said. That's especially true as the Affordable Care Act emphasizes improvements in hospitals' quality measures. Also, the GPS system ultimately saves surgeons' time, and "time is money in the OR," Myers added.

The GPS has been under development for five years, and Exactech partnered with a company in France that designed the software, while Exactech provided the hardware.

Exactech is starting to develop a similar GPS system for shoulders and eventually will do one for hips as well, Petty said.

But starting with knee replacements corresponds with a rising market demand: About 600,000 knee replacements are performed in the U.S. each year, a number that's increasing with the aging of baby boomers.

Myers said he performed about 400 knee replacements last year, which is about 80 percent of his operations.

For most of those, he used the Exactech knee system.

"The knee with this navigation system ... it's just a home run," Myers said.

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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