Think of the future. Imagine flying cars, mind-controlled Google searches, or robot assistants? One of those things is not the near future, but the present. Since the FDA approved the system in 2000, the daVinci robot has assisted in hundreds of thousands of surgeries. This happened in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

The minimally-invasive surgical system reports benefits such as decreased recovery time, fewer complications, less noticeable scarring, and less pain. Though the daVinci robot most frequently assists in prostatectomies, hysterectomies, and cardiac surgeries, it aids doctors in other operations as well.

doctor performing surgery with da vinci robot
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What Is the daVinci Robot?

The newest daVinci robot, the daVinci Si, went on the market in 2009. It utilizes several robotic arms, one with a camera and the others with surgical tools attached to them. Viewing the surgery through a high-definition, virtual reality, 3D, magnified console, the surgeon controls the arms to perform the procedure, making extremely small, 1 centimeter incisions. The system includes features meant to increase the surgeon’s skills, accuracy, comfort and prevent surgical fatigue.

With the robot, surgeon can adjust the scale of his movements. If the surgeon selects a 3-to-1 scale, the robotic arm moves one inch for every three inches his hand does. This enables him to make incredibly small, precisely controlled movements.

Wrist-like joints on the robotic arms can turn in any direction and provide greater range of movement and accuracy than a human hand can. Despite the image that the term robotic surgery creates, the system cannot perform surgery on its own. A doctor must control the arms.  To create real time, no delay movement, the daVinci system communicates with the surgeon’s console over 1400 times every second.

The many benefits of using this type of surgery include:

  • Fewer complications;
  • Faster recovery time;
  • Smaller scars;
  • Minimal pain;
  • Minimal blood loss.

Who Needs a daVinci Robot Surgery?

Anyone facing a surgical procedure might be a candidate for a daVinci procedure.  Especially patient’s being told they might need a large incision, most of the time a daVinci surgery can prevent a large painful incision.  Also, when you have a tumor or growth that surgeons must remove from a sensitive area, your doctor may want to complete the procedure with the daVinci robot. Doctors perform successful robotic surgeries for a variety of conditions, including the ones below.

  • Urological: The most common usage is for prostatectomies. The precise daVinci robot helps remove part or all of the prostate while preserving sensitive nerves that control bladder and sexual functions. Additionally, the surgery system aids in surgeries for other urological conditions like kidney disorder or cancer, bladder cancer, and urinary blockage.
  • Gynecological: A large amount of gynecological surgeries can be done by the daVinci, including endometriosis resection; pelvic prolapse surgery; and fibroid removal.  If you have a benign tumor that is causing you discomfort or a cancerous tumor that needs to be removed for your safety, your doctor may recommend a hysterectomy, the removal of the uterus. In a benign, single-site hysterectomy, the results are almost scarless.
  • Cardiac: Some patients with cardiac conditions like coronary artery disease and mitral valve prolapse may be candidates for minimally invasive daVinci surgery. Surgeons perform these surgeries by making small cuts between the ribs and inserting long, thin tubes with a camera to follow the procedure.
  • Thoracic: Doctors sometimes suggest a lobectomy. This is the removal of part of the lung, for patients with non-small cell lung cancer.
  • Head and Neck: If your doctor believes you qualify for minimally invasive surgery through the mouth, the daVinci system could assist in removing cancerous cells in the throat.
  • Colorectal: When a colectomy or rectal resection is required for inflammatory bowel disease, rectal cancer, colon cancer, or rectal prolapse, your surgeon may use the daVinci system to complete it.

Risks Involving a daVinci Robot Procedure

As with in any surgery, and the daVinci surgeries, procedures all come with a certain amount of risks.

daVinci related risks:

  • Longer Operating time compared to large Incision surgery times
  • Possibility of temporary pain or tenderness from positioning on table
  • Possiblity of converting to open procedure and thus a longer operating time

Normal Surgery related risks include:

  • Damage to other organs, nerves, or tissues
  • Potential for human error or equipment failure
  • Gas/air trapped beneath skin;
  • Risks of infection;
  • Bleeding (sometimes needing a transfusion)

And, of course, you should always take into account your doctors’ comfort and experience. This is very important, most daVinci surgeons find that their comfort level with daVinci surgery begins at about 20 cases and they should also be performing 2 or more daVinci’s a month to stay proficient and maintain higher quality skills.

One reason they may prefer to operate using a different approach because they aren’t experienced or trained on the daVinci system.  If this is the situation, an honest doctor will tell you this and give you the option to see a daVinci surgeon in your town.  It will then be your choice but you will know doctor did the right thing for you as a patient.

Recovery After the daVinci Procedure

Generally speaking, recovery from surgery with the daVinci robot is short. Most people leave the hospital the same day or next day and are able to resume basic (non-vigorous) activities within a week.

After a robotic hysterectomy a urinary catheter can be removed immediately or in several hours.  Most activities can be resumed immediately, except no driving until 24 hours later due to the anesthesia.  You should immediately start walking inside or outside, showering, going up or down stairs, and doing non-strenuous activities.  Doctors will encourage you to walk as the activity prevents blood clots in the legs. Only rarely do hysterectomy patients experience enough bleeding from the vagina that requires pads, usually this is minimal. Use soap and water with your finger on the small incisions and keep the incision area dry after you wash it.   Avoid heavy lifting as long as your doctor recommends because every procedure has different lifting requirements from 1 week to 6 weeks.

After about six weeks for prostatectomy and three to six weeks for hysterectomy patients, you can resume vigorous activities like biking, running, and horseback or exercising, within reason.

Those who’ve had cardiac surgery recover more slowly, though still in about half the time of other surgical methods. Many people return to normal activities after a few weeks. Regardless of the type of procedure performed, you can expect small scars.

Tylenol or ibuprofen usually suffice as pain treatment but if needed, your doctor will provide a stronger pain treatment such as Tylenol with Codeine, or Norco/Vicodin.  Doctors may also prescribe medicine to prevent blood clots.

Alternatives to the daVinci Robot

Though doctors perform multiple other types of surgery, the following are most common:

  • Laparoscopic surgery: In the other popular option for minimally invasive surgery, a surgeon inserts a laparoscope–a long tube with a light at the end–into a small incision in the body cavity. The surgical team then performs the operation using several small incisions.  Traditional laparoscopy is an older version of daVinci robotic laparoscopy.  Imagine trying to sew a new shirt with a needle and thread compared to trying to sew that same shirt with a programmable custom sewing machine. Traditional laparoscopy is like the old needle and thread way of doing things.  However, some doctors still prefer to perform traditional laparoscopic surgeries.
  • Open procedures: With open surgery, the doctor makes a long incision above the affected area and uses the opening to work within the cavity. Recovery with this traditional type of operation can take months and is associated with a lot more pain and bleeding. Because of this, more and more doctors choose to perform minimally invasive surgeries.

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Wrapping Up

If you suffer from a condition that requires a surgery, your doctor may use the daVinci robot to perform it. The daVinci surgical system continues to send patients home with fewer scars, less pain, and much less recovery days.

Ask your doctor to find out more information, including if you qualify for surgery with the daVinci robot. In the near future you will be able to use our website to find doctors in your area who are experienced with daVinci surgeries. Or, for readers who’ve been through the procedure, please feel free to share your experiences!

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