Harvard Health Letter

Ask the doctor: Is robotic surgery better?

Q. A hospital in the area is advertising robotic surgery. Is it really any better than having a surgeon do the operation?

A. The first robotic surgery was performed over in the mid-1980s. Now thousands of operations are being done with the assistance of robots. A better term might be robotic instrumentation because, ultimately, there's always a human surgeon with his or her hands on the controls.

Even without robots, a lot of surgery is less hands-on than it used to be. For decades, surgeons have been doing many common abdominal operations, like gallbladder removals, with laparoscopes — tubelike instruments with video cameras on the ends — and long-handled surgical instruments, all of which are inserted through small incisions. Surgeons watch magnified images on video monitors to see what they are doing so they can guide the surgical instruments.

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