Robotic Surgery and Women’s Health

How has the da Vinci surgical robot changed gynecology options for women?

“The biggest changes in gynecology in the last few years have been because of robotic surgery,” says Christy Heath, MD, a gynecologist with Birmingham OB/GYN in Alabama.

Three cheers for minimally invasive surgery. Open surgeries used to be the most often utilized option for most gynecological procedures, like hysterectomies, which meant one long incision in the abdomen that took several months to heal.

Then came minimally invasive surgeries using straight-stick laparoscopy. Healing time dropped to four weeks or less, because it meant only three or four tiny incisions in the abdomen for a camera and special instruments.

With the da Vinci surgical robot, the minimally invasive options door for women has swung wide open. The robot’s instruments have “wrists” that allow surgeons to angle and turn them within the abdomen for far more reach and better visualization than straight-stick laparoscopy could ever attain.

Less pain. “Recovery time with any minimally invasive procedure means the risks are lower and recovery’s quicker. With the robot, the results are even better,” says Dr. Heath. “After robotic surgeries, women are up and mobile that afternoon. And many don’t require narcotics to manage their pain after they leave the hospital. It’s amazing.”

Fewer obstacles to better procedures.
“Women with certain medical problems, like scar tissue, obesity or an enlarged uterus, used to be exempt from minimally invasive options,” says Dr. Heath. “But that’s not true anymore because of the flexibility of the da Vinci robot within the abdomen.”

More and more options. Besides hysterectomies, robotic surgery now lets women choose the minimally invasive approach for numerous gynecological surgeries, including treating endometriosis, performing pelvic organ prolapse procedures, repairing bladder hernias and rectal hernias, and offering alternatives to vaginal mesh procedures.

“This procedure is technically difficult, so very few gynecologists are using straight stick laparoscopy for it. But the robot now makes it possible,” says Dr. Heath. “Women can return to normal activity within two weeks instead of six to eight weeks.”

Myomectomies. The same holds true with myomectomies, a gynecology surgery for removing uterine fibroids (benign smooth muscle tumors). “If symptoms were bad enough to warrant surgery, the majority of women weren’t eligible for straight-stick laparoscopy. But the robot allows us to address larger and multiple fibroids where we used to have to do open surgeries,” says Dr. Heath.

Dr. Heath says the list of gynecology surgeries now open to women as minimally invasive grows longer as surgeons and the robot become more experienced and advanced. “It’s almost like having a mini human hand inside the abdomen. It allows surgeons so much more mobility.”

by Jane Ehrhardt

To read more about Dr. Christy Heath, click here.
For more on Birmingham OB/GYN, click here.

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