Facts & Fallacies
Robotic surgery makes my choice of surgeon less important.
Your choice of surgeon is just as important as ever.
It's critical to remember: the robot does not perform your surgery. Your surgeon does. The robotic surgery system is just a tool. In fact, it cannot make any movement unless your surgeon move the controls.
What are the most important factors in choosing a surgeon for robotic surgery?
- Find a surgeon who is a sub-specialist in the surgery you need. For example, if you require a prostatectomy, you should find a urologic surgeon.
- Find a surgeon who has performed a high volume of the surgery you require.
- Find a surgeon who is involved in research. This helps ensure that you have a surgeon who is aware of the most advanced approaches.
- Find a surgeon who is also teaches. Only the most highly skilled surgeons are also called upon to teach.
- Find a surgeon who gives you confidence when you meet with him or her in person.
Robotic surgery is always a better alternative than open surgery.
While there are many surgeries that can be performed with a robot, there are still some surgeries that are best performed with open surgery.
"Open surgery" refers to a surgery where a larger incision is made, and your surgeon is in physical contact with your body throughout the surgery. Robotic surgery, on the other hand, uses very small incisions. Tiny surgical tools, which are attached to robotic arms, are inserted through these small incisions. The surgeon then controls those tools from a console a few feet away.
While more and more surgeries can be performed using a surgical robot, some still require an open approach.
How can you tell if robotic surgery will be an option for your surgery? By going to a center that performs a high volume of robotic—and open—surgeries, you will be able to learn about all the options available for your surgery.
All robotic surgery centers are the same.
While it's true that many robotic surgery centers offer the same robotic surgery system, there are still important differences between centers. Here are some of the main ones:
- Research. When a center is active in research, it helps to ensure that you are getting the most current care.
- Volume. Research has shows that centers which perform a higher volume of robotic surgery typically have better outcomes.
- Specialization. You should look for a center that offers specialists in the particular robotic surgery you need.
- Mastery. By choosing a center that is part of a teaching institution, you help ensure that you have a surgeon with the technical mastery required to teach others.
Robotic surgery is limiting because it takes away a surgeon's sense of touch.
It is true that your surgeon will not have physical contact with your body during most of your surgery. Even so, robotic surgery dramatically improves a surgeon's capabilities in several important ways:
- Vision. The robotic surgery system dramatically improves what your surgeon sees during surgery, providing a high-definition 3D image that is magnified 10-15 times.
- Maneuverability. The instruments used during robotic surgery go beyond the capabilities of a surgeon's hands. For example, while the human forearm can rotate about 180 degrees, robotic surgery instruments can a full 540 degrees. (correct?)
- Movement in confined space. The tools used to perform the actual surgery are much smaller than a surgeon's hands and fingers, allowing easier movement and better accessibility within the body.
- Tremor control. Even the steadiest hands exhibit slight tremors. The robotic surgery system eliminates these tremor, enabling surgeons to operate with extreme precision.
- Comfort. During robotic surgery, your surgeon will sit at a console with hand controls and foot pedals. This arrangement helps to prevent fatigue during longer surgeries.
The robot could malfunction during surgery.
There are several reasons patients don't need to worry about the robot malfunctioning during surgery:
- Prior to surgery, the robotic surgery system is placed through a battery of tests to insure that it is working correctly.
- The robot can only move when the surgeon moves it. It can never move on its own.
- On the rare occasions when the robotic surgery system does not function, the robotic arms simply hang in place. They do not move, so they cannot cause any harm.
- If the robotic surgery system does not work properly, your surgeon will have a backup plan—to either perform the surgery in a minimally-invasive laparoscopic fashion, or as an open surgery.
There is not enough evidence that robotic surgery is better.
Robotic surgery has proven itself in several different areas:
- In most surgeries, robotic surgery has been shown to provide outcomes that are as good as outcomes for open surgeries.
- Robotic surgery results in less blood loss than open surgeries.
- Robotic surgery results in less post-operative pain because of the smaller incisions that are required.
- Robotic surgery results in fewer complications, such as infection.
- Robotic surgery leads to a quicker recovery.