Frequently Asked Questions About Minimally Invasive Surgery

What is minimally invasive surgery?

Minimally invasive surgery is surgery that is typically performed through small incisions — or operating ports — rather than large incisions. Minimally invasive surgery results in shorter recovery times, fewer complications, reduced hospitalization costs and reduced trauma to the patient. This type of surgery has become standard-of-care for particular surgical procedures.

Why do we need a new way to do minimally invasive surgery, like robotic surgery?

Despite the widespread use of minimally invasive or laparoscopic surgery in today’s hospitals, adoption of laparoscopic techniques has often been limited to a few routine procedures, due mostly to the limited capabilities of traditional laparoscopic technology, including standard video and rigid instruments, which surgeons must rely on to operate through small incisions.

In traditional open surgery, the physician makes a long incision and then widens it to access the anatomy. In traditional minimally invasive surgery — which is widely used for routine procedures — the surgeon operates using rigid, hand-operated instruments, which are passed through small incisions, and views the anatomy on a standard video monitor. Neither this laparoscopic instrumentation nor the video monitor can provide the surgeon with the excellent visualization needed to perform complex surgery like heart valve repair or prostatectomy like robotic surgery can.

What are the benefits of using the robot-assisted surgery over more traditional methods of surgery?

Some of the major benefits experienced by surgeons using robot-assisted surgery over traditional approaches have been greater surgical precision, increased range of motion, improved dexterity, enhanced visualization and improved access.

Robot-assisted surgery also gives the surgeon the ability to perform more complex surgical procedures than can be accomplished by traditional laparoscopic surgery.

Benefits experienced by patients include a shorter hospital stay, less pain, less risk of infection, less blood loss, fewer transfusions, less scarring, faster recovery and a quicker return to normal daily activities. None of these benefits can be guaranteed, as surgery can be both patient and procedure specific.

Does the robotic surgical system make the surgeon unnecessary?

The robotic surgical system does not take the surgeon’s place. On the contrary, it enables greater precision by enhancing the surgeon’s capability in performing complex minimally invasive surgery. The system replicates the surgeon’s movements in real time. It cannot be programmed, nor can it make decisions on its own to move in any way or perform any type of surgical maneuver without the surgeon’s input.

Is robot-assisted surgery covered by insurance?

Surgery with a robotic surgical system is categorized as robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery, so any insurance (e.g., Medicare) that covers minimally invasive surgery generally covers robotic surgery. Your coverage will depend on your plan and benefits package.

Is a surgeon using the robotic surgical system operating in virtual reality?

Although seated at a console a few feet away from the patient, the surgeon views an actual image of the surgical field while operating in real-time, through tiny incisions, using electromechanically enhanced instruments. At no time does the surgeon see a virtual image or program/command the system to perform any maneuver on its own/outside of the surgeon’s direct, real-time control.

While operating with the robotic surgical system, can the surgeon feel anything inside the surgical site?

The robotic surgical system relays force feedback sensations from the surgical site back to the surgeon throughout the procedure. Force feedback provides a substitute for tactile sensation.