Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Becomes First and Only Health System in the Carolinas to Use Robotic-Assisted Cochlear Implant System

First patient, from Alabama, can now hear his son speak

May 7, 2024

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist is the first and only health system in the Carolinas to begin using the only FDA-cleared robotic-assisted cochlear implant technology.

 Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Becomes First and Only Health System in the Carolinas to Use Robotic-Assisted Cochlear Implant System.
First patient, Stephen Wessling, has his hearing tested by Doctor of Audiology Meagan Bachmann, as Dr. Eric Kraus watches.

Cochlear implants can be described as “bionic ears” that are implanted into the inner ear of patients 9 months and older who need advanced help beyond hearing aids to restore hearing. Cochlear implants provide direct electrical stimulation, through the ear, to the hearing centers of the brain. The robotic-assisted insertion system is currently indicated for patients 12 years of age and older who qualify for a cochlear implant.

During a robotic-assisted cochlear implant procedure, the thumb-sized robot allows a specially trained surgeon to guide the placement of a cochlear implant electrode array slowly and precisely into the cochlea. 

The extremely slow speed of the system – well beyond the capabilities of humans – significantly reduces the chance of unintentional damage to the very delicate structures of the inner ear that can occur during manual insertions. 

Early data shows that robotic-assisted surgery is able to greatly reduce insertion forces. By reducing insertion trauma, there is an opportunity to preserve structure and function with the hope that more gentle, steady and controlled insertions will lead to improved hearing outcomes for patients.

Currently, the robot is primarily being used when patients have some residual hearing that is important to preserve as compared to patients who have no measurable hearing. More research is needed to define which patients will benefit most from the use of the robot, to compare patients who have had standard manual insertions with those who have had robotic-assisted insertions and to evaluate long-term hearing results in both groups.

Being at the forefront of technology, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist is one of the select centers to offer the technology with the closest other centers in New Jersey, Philadelphia and Florida. 

The surgeon who first championed the robotic-assisted cochlear implant technology at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist is Dr. Eric M. Kraus. The team includes four additional cochlear implant surgeons and five doctors of audiology who specialize in fitting and programming cochlear implants.

“We are pleased to be the first center in this region of the U.S. to be able to offer robotic-assisted cochlear implants to our patients,” said Kraus, who is also a clinical assistant professor of otolaryngology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “Evidence suggests that robotic-assisted insertion results in better preservation of structure when compared to manual insertion.”

Stephen Wessling, who lives in Decatur, Alabama, was the first patient to have the robotic-assisted cochlear implant procedure at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist. He is the father of an 8-year-old son and is a cancer survivor who lost most of his hearing in both ears five years ago, due to side effects from chemotherapy treatment.

As the owner of a business, Architectural Millworks, it was frustrating for Wessling to not be able to hear people talking to him in the noisy workplace. 

In addition, “I have missed out on attending trade shows over the past several years and have avoided other social settings, due to my hearing loss,” he said.

Wessling received a left-ear cochlear implant in January 2023 using the traditional method. In December 2023, he received his right-ear implant using the robotic system.

“I have already begun regaining my directional hearing and can once again meet with clients and attend events, which have led to increased business opportunities for my company,” he said.

Most importantly, Wessling said, he can now hear his son. “He has been so patient with me and I wanted so badly to be able to hear him talking to me. Now, I can.” 

The newly developed technology, the iotaSOFT Insertion System, is provided by iotaMotion, which was founded in 2015 by ear surgeons at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. 

“Our ultimate goal is to be able to one day preserve 90% of residual hearing in 90% of our patients,” Kraus said. “This is a very high bar, but we are very hopeful that this quantum change in technology will put us one step closer to achieving our goal to provide the best long-term hearing possible for our patients.”

Kraus and his research team at Wake Forest University School of Medicine are actively working with iotaMotion to continue to raise awareness of the benefits of this technology and partner on enhancements to drive even greater precision and efficiency. 

Media contact: Joe McCloskey,