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Robot-Guided Surgery: What Patients Must Know

When some people hear the term “robotics” in the context of surgery, their minds jump into the realm of science fiction, perhaps picturing an artificially intelligent machine performing a delicate procedure on them. The real-world scenario actually looks nothing like this picture. (Robots are not taking over the operating room.) If your doctor has suggested robot-guided surgery for your back or leg pain, here’s what patients like you need to know.

1. Robotics Do Not Replace the Surgeon

The term “robotic surgery” is something of a misnomer because, in the operating room, robotic arms do nothing on their own. The robot never makes a decision or performs any movement outside the surgeon’s direct control. Think of the robotic arm as an advanced instrument or a steadier, more precise extension of your surgeon’s hands. The surgeon remains close and controls the robot’s movements following precise calculations. (For this reason, we actually prefer the terms “robot-assisted surgery” or “robot-guided surgery.”)

2. The Surgeon Undergoes Training

While it can be a great help in surgical procedures, a robotic arm is also a very complex piece of technology and equipment. Surgeons go through extensive training to use this equipment, including watching other surgeons perform procedures with it. Although the technology may be new to you, rest assured your surgeon has spent many hours working with it until its use becomes second nature.

3. The Technology Anticipates Your Movements

Another common misconception patients have is that they must remain perfectly motionless on the table to ensure the robotic arm places the implant accurately. In fact, the robotic arm follows a precise mapping of your anatomy enhanced by GPS-like technology. This means the technology can anticipate your natural movements on the table and recalculate positioning in real time to ensure accurate placement.

4. Robot-Guided Surgery Is Both Precise and Safe

Paradoxically, many patients are disquieted about how much robots can do while at the same time being worried about how much they can’t do. A robot can’t match the precision of a human hand, they reason. What if the robot makes a mistake? In reality, robotic arms follow precise calculations as guided by the surgeon during procedures, which makes them far more accurate than the steadiest surgeon’s hands. (Accuracy rates for implant placement are about 91 percent for hand procedures and 98 percent with robotics.)

5. You Can Expect Less Pain and a Faster Recovery Time

Thanks to the accuracy of robot-assisted surgery, incisions are smaller and less prone to infection. In addition, you will suffer less tissue damage during the procedure and therefore less post-operative pain. Barring complications, this will result in a faster recovery time than if you had undergone the same procedure laparoscopically.

Most of the apprehension people have about robot-guided surgery comes from what they don’t know about it, rather than what they do know. For that reason, your surgeon is available to answer any and all questions about this technology to ensure you are completely comfortable with it before agreeing to any robot-assisted procedures. To learn more, call Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center at 404-256-2633.

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