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Robots: Now Appearing in an Operating Room Near You

Robot helps remove man's tumor. It sounds like the headline on a supermarket tabloid, but robot-assisted surgery has been a medical reality since the 1990s, and has become more common in adults and children ever since.

In robotic procedures, the human surgeon is still in control. He or she sits at a computer and controls a robotic arm holding tiny, delicate surgical instruments. Three-dimensional images from an endoscope—a camera on a long, thin tube inserted through your surgical cut—appear on a screen in front of the surgeon.

Robotic Surgery Offers Benefits

The surgical procedures robots may assist in include:

  • Urology procedures. More than half of prostate removals are now done this way.

  • Surgery for colon, bladder, and other cancers.

  • Coronary artery bypass surgery.

  • Removing kidneys or gallbladders. Hysterectomy.

  • Weight loss surgery.

The instruments used for robotic surgery are inserted through small cuts. So, you might leave the hospital sooner, recover faster, have less pain and bleeding, have less risk of infection and develop smaller scars than if your doctor used a large, open incision.

In addition, the robotic arms allow the surgeon to make small, precise movements and access hard-to-reach parts of your body. The 3-D technology provides a more detailed view of the inside of your body.

As with any surgery, robotic surgery has risks. Ask your doctor about all the risks and potential complications if you're contemplating this kind of surgery.

Make an Informed Choice

If you're interested in robotic surgery, talk to your surgeon. Ask:

  • How many robotic procedures have you performed? It takes time for a surgeon to learn to operate the equipment proficiently.

  • What training have you received? Look for a doctor who's had specific instruction in robotic procedures.

  • How much have robots been used for the particular procedure you'll be undergoing, and what has been the overall experience?