It seems like every hospital these days has a surgical robot, and often more than one. During robotic surgery, doctors use very small surgical instruments that fit into a patient’s body through incisions less than a half-inch long. In conventional robotic surgical systems, these instruments are mounted on three robotic arms, giving the surgeon maximum range and precision of motion during the surgery. A fourth arm holds a high-definition, three-dimensional camera that magnifies images from inside the body up to 10 times. Today, creative innovations are expanding the applications of robotic surgery to parts of the body once deemed inaccessible using traditional systems.
The Benefits of the Robotic Approach
The advantages of robotic surgery may include:
• Smaller incisions
• Increased precision
• Decreased blood loss
• Less risk of infection
• Reduced postoperative discomfort
• Shorter hospital stay
• Faster recovery and return to normal activities
Urology is a field with a great deal of experience with robotic surgery, which enables urologists to visualize and work around vital nerves and blood vessels while performing prostatectomy (removal of the prostate gland), partial nephrectomy (removal of a tumor from the kidney while maintaining function), cystectomy (removal of the bladder) and repair of urinary structures such as the ureters — among many other procedures. Gynecologic surgeons often use the robotic approach to perform hysterectomies, lymph node dissections other procedures, and some orthopedists use special robotic devices to enhance the precision of knee replacements. Clearly, the technology has taken off and is today used in many other specialties, including general surgery; cardiothoracic surgery; colorectal surgery; Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) procedures; and Gynecologic Oncology. There are also robotic platforms used in orthopedics and spine surgery.
Operating Through a Single Incision
One of the most recent advances in robotic surgery technology is the development of a single-port system, enabling the surgeon to perform the entire operation through a one inch-wide incision. This novel device will make it possible for more complex operations to be completed robotically, especially procedures that need to be performed in a very narrow space. Conventional four-arm robotic systems cannot fit in small spaces such as the rectum and can be difficult to manipulate in the upper airways or digestive tract. The single-port system may open new doors to robotic applications for those types of surgeries.