Robotic Surgery and What Questions to Ask Your Surgeon

I’m very passionate about robotic surgery. My hospital performs 95% of the applicable surgeries using robotic technology. I have personally completed over 2000 robotic-assisted cases since I began practicing robotic surgery in 2004. I’m also currently serving as the Medical Director for the Surgical Robotics Program at ThedaCare Regional Medical Centers in Neenah and Appleton. I also teach robotic-assisted surgery to other surgeons nationwide.  

When you have questions to ask your surgeon about robotic surgery, find a provider you will listen to you and answer those questions.
Photo(s) credit: ThedaCare Facebook

What is Robotic Surgery?

Robotic surgery is where a robot assists or performs certain parts of the surgery under a surgeon’s control. The surgeon uses a console to manipulate robotic arms, which hold surgical instruments and a camera. The first robotic-assisted surgeries took place in the 1980s. If you would like to learn more about the history of robotic surgery, you can read more here.  

Robotic surgery is a form of laparoscopic surgery, or what’s called minimally invasive. For example, any surgery performed on the abdomen laparoscopically can now be performed robotically. It allows surgeons to do more complex surgeries in a minimally invasive fashion. In the past, we used to have to make a big incision and cut people open. Now, we’re able to do more complex cases laparoscopically. 

The Success of Robotic Surgery

Robotic surgery has brought many successes to the operating room. When we compare the data across the board between open, laparoscopic, and robotic surgery regarding conversion to a big incision, length of stay in the hospital, and completion rate, we find that robotic surgery wins every time with better outcomes for the patient. However, we can’t say that robotic surgery has never had problems. Still, they have a lower rate than other types of surgeries.

What Questions to Ask Your Surgeon

When choosing a surgeon, you first want to ask what technique they will use for your surgery. I suggest asking if they have robotic surgery available. If they answer yes, you should ask if they keep track of their data. I encourage you to find a surgeon who can share the data from their robotic-assisted surgeries. 

With robotic surgery these days, all of this data is at our fingertips. I have an app on my phone that records all the data from my robotic surgeries within the last 5-10 years. The data can tell you such things as how many cases we’ve done or how long the surgery takes us to do on average. Occasionally, a patient will ask me how many of a particular operation I’ve done, and I can pull it up and give them the exact number. The data is limited, however, as it only goes back about 5-10 years. 

Whether you decide on robotic surgery or not, you can see more of the top questions to ask your surgeon in my blog, Top Questions to Ask Your Surgeon

Is the Latest Technique Always the Best?

In addition to asking your surgeon what technique they will be doing, you should also ask how long it’s been around and how much experience they have with the technique. If it’s a relatively new technique, and there’s not a lot of experience, you will have to decide if you want to be early in that experience. The latest and newest in surgical techniques, including in robotics, may not always be what is right for your surgery.

The Standard of Care

Being around robotic surgery for as long as I have, I have been able to witness all the variations of robotic technology and how it has evolved over the last twenty years. Today we are at what feels like the peak of robotic surgery, in which robotic surgery has now become the standard of care. 

Robotic surgery is not right in every case and may depend on your unique medical history. If you are contemplating robotic surgery, I hope you found this information helpful to know what questions to ask your surgeon. Most importantly, in providing you care beyond the visit, you want a surgeon that listens to you, that lets you ask questions, and that you feel trusting in the office with them. 

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