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Experts say more hospitals are offering robotic surgery as an option. Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images
  • Researchers say robotic surgery results in quicker recoveries and fewer readmissions to the hospital.
  • They add that the easier recovery leads to less pain and fewer pain medications.
  • They say robotic surgery can provide these benefits because it is less invasive and more precise.

Using robotic surgery for major abdominal operations leads to quicker recovery and reduced time in the hospital, according to a study by British researchers.

Before visions of frightening science fiction start dancing around your brain, you should know that humans are still at the controls in these procedures.

Robotics is simply a more precise way to minimize invasion, which makes for quicker healing.

Researchers from University College London and the University of Sheffield in England reported that people who had robot-assisted bladder cancer surgery recovered more quickly and were sent home sooner than those having traditional surgery that involves large incisions in the skin and muscle.

The researchers reported that robotic surgery, which involves surgeons guiding minimally invasive instruments remotely, reduces the chance of re-admission to the hospital by 52 percent.

They also wrote that robotics reduced the chance of blood clots by 77 percent.

The researchers said their findings challenged the idea that traditional “open” surgery is the “gold standard” for major operations. The study participants’ physical activity, which was tracked by a wearable smart sensor, showed stamina and quality of life also increased.

Researchers looked at 338 people with non-metastatic bladder cancer in nine hospitals in the United Kingdom.

Of them, 169 had robot-assisted radical cystectomy (bladder removal) and 169 had open radical cystectomy.

The robot-assisted group stayed an average of 8 days in the hospital, compared to 10 days for the open surgery group.

Readmission to the hospital within 90 days of the surgery was about 21 percent for the robotic group, compared to 32 percent for the open group.

Experts say the study indicates what may surgeons already know. Robotic surgery will only grow in practice.

“Absolutely no question robotics is the future of surgery,” Cory Ferrier, the business development executive who oversees the robotic-assisted program at Adventist Health Simi Valley Hospital in California, told Healthline.

“More and more physician residency and fellowship programs are incorporating robotics into their core training because of the added benefits to the patient and advancements in technology that allow surgeons to do complex cases minimally invasively,” Ferrier said. “The added safety components of the technology allow the surgeons to perform these complex procedures with better visualization and precision, which translates to the better recovery times and less pain post-operatively.”

Dr. Ataurrabb Ahmad is a general surgeon and robotic chairman at Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital. He told Healthline we can expect to see “an evolution from laparoscopic to robotic procedures as this gives surgeons superior control and better visualization.”

“The only downside that I can see is a learning curve to master this modality,” Ahmad said. “Surgeons who are good at laparoscopic surgery should have an easy time converting to robotic procedures. Having more familiarity with open procedures can also help when learning robotic techniques, as you would have the same feel with the instruments during the procedure.”

Researchers said allowing people to go home earlier also reduces the stress on hospitals.

Experts note that less-invasive robotic procedures can mean less pain during recovery, which means less pain medication.

“The decreased pain means a decreased need for narcotics,” said Dr. Bethany Malone, a private practice colon and rectal surgeon in Fort Worth, Texas, who specializes in robotic surgery.

“For procedures like inguinal hernia repair, I often send patients home on over-the-counter medications like Tylenol or ibuprofen,” Malone told Healthline. “Given the recent opioid pandemic, this is a huge win for the healthcare system. The improved recovery times also translate to a shorter length of stay.”

“After robotic colon surgery, patients often go home the first or second day after surgery. With open surgery, patients would often stay 5 to 7 days in the hospital after surgery,” she added. “There are even centers that are performing outpatient robotic colectomies where patients are going home the same day as their colon operation.”

“The scarring after robotic surgery is also minimal given the size of the trocars, so patients are able to wear bathing suits without having to feel self-conscious or having to be reminded of whatever reason they had to require an operation,” Malone noted.

More hospitals are incorporating robotic surgery options, which require more training costs, said Dr. Georgios V. Georgakis, a surgical oncologist at Stony Brook Medicine in New York.

He said patients are embracing this brave new world of surgery.

“The trust between the surgeon and the patient comes from the surgeon,” Georgakis told Healthline. “If the surgeon explains the benefits and the drawbacks, which are negligible, the vast majority of the patients select the robotic surgery.”

“Additionally, there is the aspect that robotic surgery requires special training, and more training, most of the time, means better outcomes,” he said. “Finally, most of the patients are aware of the benefits of technology adoption and they request this particular surgery.”