Understanding robotic surgery risks and benefits

The promise of robotic surgery has always been greater precision for the surgeon and in many cases a faster and less painful recovery time for the patient. But there are some potential risks and disadvantages to robotic surgery that are often overlooked.

What are the benefits of robotic surgery?

Robotic surgery is considered minimally invasive, meaning the surgery is done through small incisions or cuts, which minimizes the risk for bleeding and speeds up healing time.

The tiny robotic surgical instruments allow the surgeon to reach and maneuver more exactly in delicate areas. A 3D-magnified, on-screen view of the surgical area gives the surgeon greater perspective and visibility. Being seated and using robot assistance also helps relieve the surgeon of fatigue endured during longer surgeries. The robot also lessens any slight hand tremor (shaking) the surgeon might have.

In a number of surgical specialties, robotic surgery has been proven more beneficial for patients compared to open or traditional surgery and other minimally invasive surgeries. These include robotic-assisted hernia repair and robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy as well some gynecologic cancer surgery procedures.

What are some robotic surgery disadvantages?

Because the surgeon is manipulating the robot to perform certain aspects of the surgery, the surgeon is “removed” from the patient’s body and doesn’t experience cutting into the patient directly. Being distanced from the patient, the surgeon could potentially injure a nearby organ without knowing it right away. There is also some concern that the robotic surgical system can cause internal burns and punctures. And although complication rates due to mechanical failure are very low, it is possible for any part of the robot, such as the binocular lenses or the robotic arm, to not work properly.

While robotic surgery benefits have been proven for certain types of surgeries, there is little evidence that robot-assisted surgery has any long-term benefit to patients compared to open surgery or other minimally invasive surgeries.

As with any surgery, there is some risk of bleeding, infection, or complications from anesthesia.

There are also no national training standards for robotic surgeons so there is no minimum number of surgeries required to become a robotic surgeon. In the hands of a less skilled robotic surgeon, the risk of complications is higher. This is another reason it’s so important to choose a robotic surgeon who has performed many surgeries with successful outcomes.

Why choose a Main Line Health robotic surgeon

While every type of surgery carries potential risk and reward, it is the capability and expertise of the surgeon that minimizes that risk and gives patients the best chance for optimal recovery. As with any surgical mastery, the more robotic procedures the surgeon performs, the better the outcomes.

At Main Line Health we are committed that you receive the right surgery at the right time with the right tools.

Our Main Line Health robotic surgeons have years of experience as surgeons, including minimally invasive robotic surgery. Yet not all minimally invasive surgeries require robotic assistance and not all patients are candidates for robotic surgery. Your surgeon will discuss your options with you and help you decide whether robotic surgery is right for you. For more information, read our robotic surgery FAQ.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.