There is much in the news today questioning the effectiveness of robotic surgery. From gynecologic procedures to heart surgery, many people have questions about whether the pros outweigh the cons and by how much. One piece of the conversation that seems to frequently be missing from these reports however, is just how important a surgeon’s experience is in using robotic surgery techniques.
You see, contrary to what many might think, the surgical “robot” can’t and doesn’t operate all by itself. Think of it more as a very precise tool available for the surgeon’s use, allowing him or her to be more precise with technique. If you’re thinking about robotic surgery as a minimally-invasive treatment option for your condition, the following is what you should look for in the surgeon you are considering.
1. Training. In order to perform successful robotic surgery, a surgeon must undergo extensive, rigorous training. This includes training in residency. It is preferable for the surgeon to have additional fellowship training in minimally invasive surgery. Furthermore, institutions providing robotic surgery should have a rigorous credentialing process to ensure their surgeons are appropriately trained.
2. Experience. Once a surgeon has been trained and certified to perform robotic surgery, his or her experience in performing that specific procedure is critical. To get an expert level of experience in using robotic surgery and depending on the type of procedure, the surgeon should have performed between 50-200 cases. The more, the better. Be sure to ask any surgeon you’re considering how many robotic procedures of that type that he or she has performed. Bonus points to the surgeon who teaches the robotic procedure in an academic setting.
3. Outcomes. Typically, if you’ve found a physician who has been expertly trained and is sufficiently experienced in the robotic procedure he or she performs, they will have achieved successful outcomes. What I mean by successful outcomes is this: the clinical standards by which the procedure has been performed, have been met safely, effectively and without preventable complications. Be sure to ask the surgeon you’re considering about his or her success rate with this type of robotic procedure. If he or she keeps detailed records of such things and demonstrates a willingness to share them, it’s a good thing.
4. A Quality Facility. In addition to the qualifications of the surgeon you’re considering, you should additionally seek information about the facilities in which they perform their procedures. Is the hospital or outpatient clinic well-known? Does it have a good reputation for clinical excellence? A dedicated surgical support staff, meticulously maintained equipment and commitment to high-quality care are all attributes of a standout facility for robotic surgery patients.
Like the unique patients who are considering robotic surgery, not all robotic surgeons are created equal. As with many things in life, knowledge is power. Extensive research and due diligence on your part can go a long way toward selecting the most qualified surgeon to perform a robotic procedure on you or a loved one.