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Yet "it takes a long time to master this technology," says Jim C. D., director of the robotic and minimally invasive urology surgery program at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Hu has performed more than 2,000 robotic surgeries. Ignore the hype: According to a 2011 Johns Hopkins study, hospital websites often cite studies comparing robotic surgery with open surgery instead of with minimally invasive procedures. Weigh the options: Think twice about having robotic surgery for routine procedures such as hysterectomy, gallbladder removal, hernia repair, appendix removal, gastric bypass and standard colon surgery.
"Many claims of superior safety and effectiveness are misleading," says Marty Makary, M. Conversely, the robot's dexterity may pay off for complex cancer surgeries, head and neck tumors, and throat cancer, as well as procedures for which there is no minimally invasive choice. Ask questions: Some patients aren't told that their surgery will be performed with the assistance of a robot, so if you're scheduled for surgery, ask. D., advises finding a surgeon who has fellowship training in robotic surgery, and who has practiced robotic surgical skills for more than a year.
If a robot will be used, ask whether there are alternatives. Select the right doctor: That is, one who has had practice with the robot — has performed routine surgeries at least 20 times, experts say. The bottom line: It's important to weigh the pros and cons of robotic surgery carefully.
But robots in the OR may not be living up to their promise.
"Years of data tell us that for many procedures, there's no benefit to the patient over standard minimally invasive surgeries," says Marty Makary, M.
Minimally invasive robotic surgeries usually result in less blood loss and faster recoveries, since there's a smaller incision to heal.
Still, surgeons see many advantages to performing procedures with a robot.Some patients, like Paul Elliott, have suffered permanent nerve damage due to being held in an unnatural position, as required for some robotic procedures.Surgeons using a robot don't get the tactile feedback that comes from cutting directly into a patient's tissue, and that can increase the risk of injury from hitting adjacent organs.During the eight-hour operation, his body had been suspended in a steep head-down position to accommodate the positioning of the robot used to assist the surgeon.Elliott suffered nerve damage and never regained full use of his left hand.