Robots have been around for years. Today they’re sweeping floors, assembling cars and doing work that’s too dangerous for humans.
Robots are also helping surgeons perform increasingly complicated operations. Using robots, nothing more than one or a few small incisions are needed at the surgical site.
Since the mid 1980s when robotic surgery was introduced, the technology has improved at a phenomenal rate. We’ve continued to expand the capabilities of minimally invasive robotic surgery.
Robotic surgery, or robot-assisted surgery, doesn’t resemble any cute sci-fi movie robots. Actually, the current robotic surgery system features four mechanical arms that are positioned over the patient.
Each arm can hold a surgical tool designed for a specific task. The robotic surgery tools have small joints so they can bend like a wrist. The flexibility gives the surgeon additional degrees of control.
During the surgery the OR team can quickly change the tools as needed.
Through multiple small incisions, often no bigger than a dime, the surgeon can insert special tools to accomplish specific surgical tasks.
The tools available to the surgeon include miniature 3D high-definition cameras. They allow the surgeon to see up close and in extraordinarily fine detail exactly what she or he is working on in the surgical site.
During surgery, the surgeon is seated at a special control console for the robot-assisted system. It includes a video monitor connected to the camera on one of the robot arms.
The surgeon can manipulate the arms with extraordinary accuracy using computer-assisted controllers. The precision of the robotic arms can’t be duplicated by even the most steady human hand. Heavily redundant computer controls ensure the tools can’t go where the surgeon does not intend them to.
Once the surgery is completed, the tools are gently extracted and the incisions can be closed.
Because of the small incisions needed for minimally invasive techniques, patients are typically more comfortable after surgery when compared to larger incisions of open surgery. Less pain medication is needed, if any is used at all.
With some procedures, patients can go home the same day as their surgery and recover at home. Patients can also often return to work more quickly.
A benefit for both patients and surgeons is that the surgeon can do work while seated at an ergonomic console. They no longer need to stand throughout the surgery. This reduces surgeon fatigue and keeps your surgeon more relaxed and mentally sharp throughout your procedure.
Robotic surgery is used to address a variety of conditions and surgeries including:
Robot-assisted surgery and laparoscopic surgery are both minimally invasive surgical techniques.
With laparoscopic surgery, the view available to the surgeon is generally in two dimensions. Using robotic surgery, the surgeon’s view is 3D. The enhanced vision of robotic surgery allows easier identification of anatomic details and provides a significant safety advantage.
With laparoscopy, the surgeon generally holds the surgical tools. Laparoscopic tools are straight and not flexible (they lack “wrist” flexibility), so the areas they can effectively reach are more limited.
In robot-assisted surgery, the robot arms hold the surgical tools that are controlled with high precision by the surgeon. The wrist design of the tools adds surgical flexibility and accuracy for the surgeon.
Because of the many procedures laparoscopic surgery does well, it remains an appropriate and effective surgical approach for many procedures.
The possibilities for the future of robotic surgery are exciting. Advances in robotics will lead to more mainstream management of other conditions such as breast and thyroid surgery.
Shortly, we’ll be able to lay images, such as an MRI, over the televised view from the surgical site. Overlays will help us pinpoint tumors and other elements that may be difficult to see with the naked eye.
We continue to refine practices for new robotic surgical procedures. And as our technology continues to develop, increasingly complex operations will be performed with this enhanced technology.
If you need surgery someday, seeking a second opinion can give you reassuring peace of mind that you’re make the right treatment choices.
When you’re ready to move forward, your doctor will explain your treatment options along with the advantages. You’ll hear what you should know about each alternative.
You can learn more about treatments for a range of conditions at Aurora.org. Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit health care provider.