Thanks to ever-advancing medical technology, minimally invasive surgeries are rapidly outnumbering traditional open surgeries. And while all minimally invasive surgery focuses on creating less damage to the body, there are different techniques to accomplishing that goal: laparoscopic surgery and robotic surgery.

As a patient, it’s important to be informed about your options so you can make an educated decision (along with your surgeon) about which technique is best for you.

Benefits of minimally invasive surgery

The less invasive surgery can be, the better the outcome for all involved. From fewer complications to an easier recovery period, both laparoscopic and robotic surgeries have several key benefits:

  • Reduced blood loss
  • Reduced pain
  • Smaller scars
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Faster recovery times

Similarities between laparoscopic surgery and robotic surgery

Whether you are undergoing laparoscopic or robotic surgery, there are definitive similarities. Both types of procedures require the surgeon to make several small incisions in the abdominal cavity, called trocars. Into one of the trocars, a camera will be inserted. This camera will allow the surgeon to see inside the body, removing the need to place their hands directly into the patient. Also, instead of standard sized instruments, miniature surgical tools are used.

Differences between laparoscopic and robotic surgery

Laparoscopic surgery

  • With laparoscopic surgery, visualization of the internal anatomy is achieved through a high-definition digital camera. It is attached to a telescopic lens inserted into one of the small incisions.
  • The surgeon watches the video on a monitor close to the patient. The video is used to guide the surgeon in their manipulation of the miniaturized tools inserted through the other trocars.
  • These small instruments are specially designed to enter into these small areas of the body, while still allowing the surgeon to their own hands to perform the operation.
  • Laparoscopic surgeons are able to utilize the familiar sensations of pressure and other tactile movements to manipulate the surgical instruments during surgery.

Laparoscopic surgery can have limitations

  • The video images associated with this kind of surgery, though high definition, are two-dimensional. This can limit the overall visibility of the surgical area.
  • Also, the surgical instruments used can be rigid and limited in range of motion—moving only up and down and side to side—making dexterity limited in such small spaces.

Robotic surgery 

  • With the use of robotics, such as the da Vinci robotic surgery system, instead of holding and manipulating the surgical instruments themselves, the surgeon uses a computer console to operate the robot’s arms.
  • The miniaturized tools are mounted on three separate robotic arms. The instruments are “wristed”—moving more like a hand. This allows the surgeon more range of motion and more precision, often improving maneuverability of tissue, less bleeding and less postoperative pain.
  • The da Vinci’s fourth arm contains a magnified high-definition 3D camera to guide the surgeon during the procedure. This type of imagery gives the surgeon a better visibility and possibly better identification of the problem.
  • The surgeon controls all four arms of the robot simultaneously while looking through a stereoscopic high-definition monitor. Each movement is precisely performed through the finger controls.
  • The robotic arms allow for seven degrees of movement freedom, simulating the human hand’s movements in real-time. These robotic arms also have the added ability to filter out any errant hand tremors helping in highly precise surgical dissection during surgery.
  • Because the surgeon is sitting at the console, as opposed to standing over the patient, there is less worry of fatigue or fatigue-related risk factors during the surgery.

Robotic surgery can have downsides.

  • The cost of the robotic system can be expensive. The high cost of the surgical system could raise the costs of the surgical procedure.
  • The learning phase for doctors is still quite extensive. Only a highly qualified surgeon should be providing robotic surgery options.

Whichever procedure appeals to you, it’s important to know that you are in the absolute best hands. A top surgeon’s deep experience and skill will all but negate the possible downsides to each technique—and assure a successful procedure and fast recovery.

Looking for a leading minimally invasive surgeon?

Dr. Andrea Pakula is one of the nation’s leading authorities in robotic surgery, and one of the most sought-after practitioners of traditional and minimally invasive surgical approaches. Dr. Pakula uses the state-of-the-art da Vinci robotic surgery system to perform both complex and routine surgery and to train surgeons all over the country.