What You Should Know Before Agreeing to Robotic Surgery

One night while you watch the local news, you hear that a nearby hospital invested in a robotic surgery machine. The hospital brags about the new machine, saying it’s the latest in technology and offers patients less invasive surgical options. You think it sounds very high-tech. In fact, you feel like you’re one step closer to living in the futuristic societies depicted in science fiction.

Robotic surgeries are definitely the wave of the future. However, they aren’t a foolproof surgical option. If your doctor recommends robotic surgery, don’t assume that advanced technology means a safer procedure and better results for you. Use the information below to weigh the risks and benefits of robotic surgery before you go under the machine’s knife.

The Basics: What You Need to Know

Robotic surgery is relatively new to medicine, so you may not know much about it. Here are the basics of how it works and when doctors use it.

How Robotic Surgeries Work

Laparoscopic surgery was the forerunner to true robotic surgery. In laparoscopic surgery, the doctor makes several small incisions instead of a single large one. Through these incisions, the doctor inserts surgical instruments and cameras. Thanks to the cameras, the doctor views the surgical field on a screen. This surgical method minimizes infection and speeds up patient recovery.

One type of robotic surgery works similar to laparoscopic surgery. The surgeon makes a few small incisions and inserts cameras and surgical instruments. But, with robotic surgery, the surgeon doesn’t touch and manipulate these instruments directly. Instead, the surgeon looks into a viewfinder to see the surgical field and controls these instruments at a computer console. The doctor has a 3D view considered better than the view available for laparoscopic surgery.

Another type of robotic surgery allows for very precise surgical maneuvers. In this type, the doctor plans the moves the robot will make based on scans of the patient’s body. The doctor programs these moves into the robot and positions the robot so it can make the desired cuts. Finally, the doctor tells the robot to follow the instructions. Doctors monitor the patient closely while the robot performs these automated moves.

Common Robotic Surgeries

Trained surgeons use robots to perform many common surgical procedures. These include:

  • Female reproductive organ surgery
  • Weight loss surgery (stomach stapling)
  • Prostate removal
  • Kidney removal
  • Gallbladder removal
  • Pancreas removal
  • Cancerous tumor removal
  • Hernia repair
  • Heart valve replacement
  • Hip or knee replacement

The Discussion: What You Need to Ask

Any surgery has risks, and robotic surgery doesn’t eliminate those risks. Plus, according to research, robotic methods may not offer most patients any advantages over simpler non-invasive methods. In some instances, robotic surgeries just cost more and take longer to complete.

More alarmingly, data show that complications and death still occur in a number of robotic surgeries. For instance, between 2011 and 2012 adverse events during robotic surgeries increased by 34 percent. A Johns Hopkins study even indicates that doctors may under-report these complications.

If you’re deciding between robotic, laparoscopic, and open surgical methods, have an in-depth discussion with your doctor. Use the questions below to guide your conversation.

  1. What makes me a good candidate for robotic surgery?

This question aims to discover why your doctor considers robotic surgery your best option. Be wary if your doctor focuses mainly on how high-tech it is, particularly for routine surgeries. On the other hand, robotic surgery may be your only option for complex surgeries that don’t have a minimally invasive alternative.

  1. What are the risks and benefits compared to other minimally invasive options?

Some studies promoting robotic surgery compare it to open surgery instead of laparoscopic surgery. This comparison unfairly skews the report in favor of robotic surgery. Make sure your doctor tells you how it compares to the best available non-robotic method.

  1. How many robotic surgeries have you performed?

Experience matters in robotic surgery. If you prefer robotic surgery or have no alternatives, choose a doctor who has used the robotic equipment at least 20 times. Also look for doctors who have used the equipment for at least a year or who have completed fellowship training in robotic surgery.

The Aftermath: What to Do If Robotic Surgery Goes Wrong

Unfortunately, your precautions and preparations for robotic surgery cannot prevent all complications from happening. As you would after any procedure, watch for side effects following your surgery. Some of the most serious possible side effects associated with robotic surgeries include:

  • Nerve damage
  • Internal injuries
  • Incontinence
  • Impotence

If you notice unusual or uncomfortable side effects, seek medical help. You’ll want to see a doctor right away because some surgical complications can be life-threatening.

You may also want to consult a lawyer who handles robotic surgery malpractice cases. Law firms with a strong medical background will offer you the best advice since they understand the technicalities of robotic surgery.

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