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Dr. Kenneth Liao performs robotic cardiovascular surgery.

Why Robotic Heart Surgery Is Becoming More and More Popular

Jan 31, 2020

Open-heart surgery, a traditional therapy for severe cases of heart disease, begins with a doctor making a large incision in the chest and splitting the breastbone in two to reach the heart. Minimally invasive procedures have gained popularity as less traumatic alternatives since they only require a few minor incisions and allow surgeons to work inside the body using cameras and scopes. Now, robotic surgery — a more advanced minimally invasive option — is gaining traction. While it may sound like something out of a sci-fi film, it can have real benefits for eligible patients. 

How Robotic Heart Surgery Works 

To begin a robotic cardiac procedure, a surgeon first makes three or four incisions (shorter than 1 inch each) on the side of the chest. These are much smaller than the 3- to 4-inch incisions in other minimally invasive procedures and the single 6- to 8-inch incision in open-heart surgery.

The surgeon then threads the robotic arms and a small camera through these incisions and begins using the following tools: 

  • The surgeon console is where your doctor sits throughout the procedure. This area gives them a 3D view of the inside of the body. It also contains controls for the robotic arms that perform the surgery. These arms allow doctors to have a broader range of motion than they would have by just using their hands or other minimally invasive tools. 
  • The patient cart is where the robotic arms are. It sits next to the patient, and the arms move smoothly in real time with the surgeon’s motions, filtering any natural tremor. 
  • The vision cart allows images to travel from the patient cart to the surgeon console to increase the surgeon’s visibility and precision throughout the procedure. It also displays a live feed of the procedure to everyone involved in the operation.

Common Robotic Cardiac Procedures 

Two common cardiovascular surgeries benefit from robotic assistance:

Benefits of Robotic-Assisted Surgery 

Since robotic procedures require only a few small incisions, the patient often experiences many benefits, including:

  • Significantly less pain
  • Less blood loss
  • Lower risk of infection 
  • Less scarring
  • Shorter recovery time
  • A faster return to normal daily activities

Although they’re relatively new procedures, Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center’s Chief of Cardiothoracic Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support, Kenneth Liao, MD, PhD, has been performing and pioneering techniques in robotic cardiac surgery for the past 15 years. 

“We are using the third generation of robots, and the technology has advanced so much that it is easier to use and very intuitive,” says Dr. Liao. “With current robotic surgery, patients experience much less tissue trauma and reduced recovery times.” 

And as one of the top 25 cardiology and heart surgery programs in the nation (U.S. News & World Report), our trusted team at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center provides the most advanced and individualized cardiovascular care available. Schedule an appointment with a CHI St. Luke’s Health cardiologist today to get started on a path to better heart health. 

Sources: 
Intuitive | Intuitive for Cardiac Patients
NCBI | Robotic coronary artery bypass graft surgery
NCBI | Robotic mitral valve surgery: current limitations and future directions
NCBI | Bilateral internal mammary arteries: evidence and technical considerations
Medline Plus | Mitral valve surgery - minimally invasive
NIH |  Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting