Robotic surgery, or robot-assisted surgery, allows doctors to perform many types of complex procedures with more precision, flexibility and control than is possible with conventional techniques. Robotic surgery is usually associated with minimally invasive surgery — procedures performed through tiny incisions. It is also sometimes used in certain traditional open surgical procedures.
About robotic surgery
Robotic surgery with the da Vinci Surgical System was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000. The technique has been rapidly adopted by hospitals in the United States and Europe for use in the treatment of a wide range of conditions.
The most widely used clinical robotic surgical system includes a camera arm and mechanical arms with surgical instruments attached to them. The surgeon controls the arms while seated at a computer console near the operating table. The console gives the surgeon a high-definition, magnified, 3-D view of the surgical site. The surgeon leads other team members who assist during the operation.
Surgeons who use the robotic system find that for many procedures it enhances precision, flexibility and control during the operation and allows them to better see the site, compared with traditional techniques. Using robotic surgery, surgeons can perform delicate and complex procedures that may have been difficult or impossible with other methods.
Often, robotic surgery makes minimally invasive surgery possible. The benefits of minimally invasive surgery include:
- Fewer complications, such as surgical site infection
- Less pain and blood loss
- Quicker recovery
- Smaller, less noticeable scars
Robotic surgery involves risk, some of which may be similar to those of conventional open surgery, such as a small risk of infection and other complications.
Is robotic surgery right for you?
Robotic surgery isn't an option for everyone. Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of robotic surgery and how it compares with other techniques, such as other types of minimally invasive surgery and conventional open surgery.
Across the United States, the extent to which robotic surgery is used varies widely. Its use depends on a variety of factors. These may include physician training, equipment availability and cultural factors, such as what people are most comfortable doing and what other surgeons in the area do. One study of U.S. hospitals showed that some institutions have a culture that prefers traditional open surgery, while others prefer minimally invasive surgery.
Jan. 16, 2015
- Cooper M, et al. Hospital level under-utilization of minimally invasive surgery in the United States: Retrospective review. BMJ. 2014;349:g4198.
- Barbash GI, et al. New technology and health care costs — The case of robot-assisted surgery. New England Journal of Medicine. 2010;363:701.
- FY 2000 ODE Annual Report - Part 1 — Advances in Patient Care. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/aboutfda/centersoffices/officeofmedicalproductsandtobacco/cdrh/cdrhreports/ucm130260.htm. Accessed Oct. 17, 2014.
- Computer-assisted (robotic) surgical systems. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/SurgeryandLifeSupport/ComputerAssistedRoboticSurgicalSystems/default.htm. Accessed Oct. 17, 2014.
- Wright JD, et al. Robotically assisted vs laparoscopic hysterectomy among women with benign gynecologic disease. JAMA. 2013;309:689.
- Wright JD, et al. Comparative effectiveness of robotically assisted compared with laparoscopic adnexal surgery for benign gynecologic disease. Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2014;124:886.