Frequently asked questions about minimally invasive surgery

What is minimally invasive surgery?

Minimally invasive surgery is less invasive to the body than traditional open surgery. In traditional surgery, the physician makes a long incision and then widens it to access the anatomy. In minimally invasive surgery, also known as laparoscopic surgery, procedures are typically performed through several small incisions called “ports” rather than a long incision. The surgeon passes a tiny video camera and manually operated surgical instruments through these small incisions, and then manipulates the instruments while viewing the surgical area on a standard video monitor.

What is minimally invasive robotic surgery?

Robotic surgery is a minimally invasive surgical approach that combines the small incisions and remote imagery of laparoscopic surgery with the superior technology and enhanced precision of a robotic surgical system.

While minimally invasive surgery is successfully used in a variety of routine procedures, it does have limitations that preclude its use in more complex surgeries. Neither the rigid laparoscopic instruments nor the standard video monitor can provide the surgeon with the excellent visualization and dexterity needed to perform surgery such as heart valve repair or prostatectomy.

Robotic surgery eliminates these limitations with the addition of a robotically assisted surgical system that provides a high-definition, 3-D view of the surgical area and uses curved tools attached to robotic hands. The robotic system gives surgeons greater precision, increased range of motion, improved dexterity, enhanced visualization and improved access.

During a robotic surgical procedure, the surgeon is seated at a console in the operating room and remotely controls and manipulates the instruments inside the body. The surgical robot translates the surgeon’s hand movements into smaller, more precise movements of the instruments.

Robot-assisted surgery also enables surgeons to perform more complex procedures than can be accomplished by traditional laparoscopic surgery and is used in a number of procedures.

What are the benefits and risks of minimally invasive robotic surgery?

In many cases, robotic surgery results in shorter recovery times, reduced risk of infection, less blood loss, shorter hospital stays, less pain and scarring and a quicker return to normal activities.

However, minimally invasive surgery is still major surgery. Patients should expect to have some pain and a recovery period of several days or more. As with any major surgery, there are risks including infection, bleeding and other complications.

Robotic surgery may not be appropriate for all patients. If you need surgery, discuss all of your options with your surgeon, including the benefits and risks of each.

Is the robot operating on me, or the surgeon?

The robotic surgical system depends completely on the surgeon to direct and control it. 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 direction.

Is the surgeon relying on real-time images or virtual images during the surgery?

Although seated at a console a few feet away from the patient, the surgeon views an actual, real-time image of the surgical field throughout the entire procedure. At no time does the surgeon see a virtual image, nor does the system perform any maneuver not specifically directed by the surgeon.

Can the surgeon feel what he or she is doing while performing surgery with a robot?

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.

Is robotic 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 procedures. Your coverage will depend on your plan and benefits package.