Growing up on a farm in northeast Louisiana, Dr. Scott Yerger always felt a pull toward the medical field.
“Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been interested in science and medicine,” he said. “It was just something that was always attractive to me.”
While he first strongly considered becoming a general surgeon, he soon discovered a passion for orthopaedics. He participated in a general surgery internship at the University of South Alabama, then orthopaedic surgery residencies at South Alabama and Louisiana State University Health Science Center in New Orleans.
“I went into medical school with a real open mind,” Yerger recalled. “In my fourth year of medical school, I did a couple of ortho rotations, and I really developed a strong interest in it and knew that was what I wanted. I actually just fell into the rotations because a couple of my roommates were doing them, but I immediately took to it, applied and was accepted for residency.”
His education also included extensive training during an adult reconstruction fellowship at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic.
“I can’t say enough about the Cleveland Clinic when it comes to training physicians to go out into their communities,” Yerger said. “They see such a high volume of patients from all backgrounds. It really helps broaden your clinical acumen. It broadens your exposure to all kinds of problems that ultimately make you a better clinician and a better surgeon. It was the best place I ever trained.”
Yerger first received training on manual techniques for hip and knee replacements, both primary and revision surgeries. Then, a colleague in Georgia started discussing Mako Robotic-Arm Assisted Surgery for joint replacements. Yerger was immediately interested and observed several surgeries using the technology.
About seven years ago, Lafayette General received its own Mako Robotic Arm. Yerger, along with other physicians, uses the technology regularly for total and partial hip and knee replacements.
“What you see across the board is better precision and better accuracy,” Yerger said of using the device. “The patient generally has less blood loss, a shorter hospital stay, less pain and an improved range of motion of the joints. Less time in the hospital means a decreased cost to the patient. That’s all good for healthcare across the board.”
For now, the Mako Robotic Arm is only used for primary joint replacements. If the patient needs another procedure, called a revision, they must undergo a manual operation.
“It’s just much more complex and there are a great deal more variables in play,” Yerger said. “The robotics are designed for primary operations with the ultimate goal to decrease revision rates over time. Will robotic surgery come into play in the future for revisions? I would venture to say it’s more than likely. Fifteen years ago, we did not see robotics as a tool for primary joint replacements, so I do think it will become a larger part of our work.”
Whether performing primary or revision operations, or treating patients who have suffered fractures, Yerger said his greatest fulfillment comes from seeing patients return to normal activities.
“The rewarding part is when you see them have a decrease in pain, a return to function and improvement in their quality of life,” Yerger said. “That’s the reward we get as orthopaedic surgeons, when you see someone that can now be independent and return to their lifestyle.”