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:
“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.”