Robotic Surgery Frequently Asked Questions

Click on a question to read information on the topic.

Q. What is minimally invasive surgery (MIS)?

A. MIS is surgery typically performed through small incisions, or operating ports, rather than large incisions, resulting in potentially shorter recovery times, fewer complications, reduced hospitalization costs and reduced trauma to the patient. While MIS has become the standard for some surgical procedures, it has not been widely adopted for more complex or delicate procedures – for example, prostatectomy and mitral valve repair.

Intuitive Surgical, which makes the da Vinci System, believes that surgeons have been slow to adopt MIS for complex procedures because they generally find that fine-tissue manipulation – such as dissecting and suturing – is more difficult than in open surgery. Intuitive Surgical's technology, however, enables the use of MIS techniques for complex procedures.

In traditional open surgery, the physician makes a long incision and then widens it to access the anatomy. In traditional minimally invasive surgery, which is widely used for routine procedures, the surgeon operates using rigid, hand-operated instruments, which are passed through small incisions and views the anatomy on a standard video monitor. Neither this laparoscopic instrumentation nor the video monitor can provide the surgeon with the excellent visualization needed to perform complex surgery like valve repair or nerve-sparing prostatectomy.

Q. What are the benefits of robotic surgery compared with traditional methods of surgery?

A. Some of the major benefits experienced by surgeons using a robotic surgical system over traditional approaches have been greater surgical precision, increased range of motion, improved dexterity, enhanced visualization and improved access. Benefits experienced by patients may include a shorter hospital stay, less pain, less risk of infection, less blood loss, fewer transfusions, less scarring, faster recovery and a quicker return to normal daily activities. None of these benefits can be guaranteed, as surgery is necessarily both patient- and procedure-specific.

Q. Has robotic surgery been cleared by the FDA?

A. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared the da Vinci Surgical System for a wide range of procedures. Please see the FDA Clearance page for specific clearances and representative uses.

Q. Is robotic surgery covered by insurance?

A. Da Vinci Surgery is categorized as robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery, so any insurance that covers minimally invasive surgery generally covers da Vinci Surgery. This is true for widely held insurance plans like Medicare. It is important to note that your coverage will depend on your plan and benefits package. For specifics regarding reimbursement for da Vinci Surgery, or if you have been denied coverage, please call the Reimbursement Hotline at 888.868.4647, ext. 3128.

Q. Does robotic surgery make the surgeon unnecessary?

A. On the contrary, robotic surgery enables surgeons to be more precise, advancing their technique and enhancing their capability in performing complex minimally invasive surgery. The system replicates the surgeon's movements in real time. It cannot be programmed, nor can it make decisions on its own to move in any way or perform any type of surgical maneuver without the surgeon's input.

Q. Is a surgeon using a surgical robot operating in "virtual reality"?

A. Although seated at a console a few feet away from the patient, the surgeon views an actual image of the surgical field while operating in real-time, through tiny incisions, using miniaturized, wristed instruments. At no time does the surgeon see a virtual image or program/command the system to perform any maneuver on its own or outside of the surgeon's direct, real-time control.

Q. While using the da Vinci Surgical System, can the surgeon feel anything inside the patient's abdomen?

A. The system relays some force feedback sensations from the operative field back to the surgeon throughout the procedure. This force feedback provides a substitute for tactile sensation and is augmented by the enhanced vision provided by the high-resolution 3-D view.

Q. What procedures have been performed using the da Vinci Surgical System? What additional procedures are possible?

A. The da Vinci System is a robotic surgical platform designed to enable complex procedures of all types to be performed through 1 to 2 cm incisions or operating “ports.” To date, tens of thousands of procedures including general, urologic, gynecologic, thoracoscopic and thoracoscopically-assisted cardiotomy procedures have been performed using the da Vinci Surgical System.

Q. Why is it called the da Vinci Surgical System?

A. The product is called "da Vinci" in part because Leonardo da Vinci invented the first robot. He also used unparalleled anatomical accuracy and three-dimensional details to bring his masterpieces to life. The da Vinci Surgical System similarly provides physicians with such enhanced detail and precision that the system can simulate an open surgical environment while allowing operation through tiny incisions.

For more information, visit www.davincisurgery.com.