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What is Robotic Heart Surgery?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Robotic heart surgery is heart surgery in which a robot is involved. Many doctors use the term “robot-assisted heart surgery” to distinguish between a surgery done entirely by robot, and a surgery performed by a robot which is under the control of a surgeon. Heart surgery is a delicate and potentially dangerous endeavor, and as of 2009, only robot-assisted heart surgery was available to patients, as true robotic heart surgery would require an extremely advanced robot.

The main reason to use robotic heart surgery rather than conventional open heart surgery is that robotic heart surgery is less invasive. Instead of making a large incision and cracking open the patient's breastbone or ribs, the surgeon can use a series of small incisions to insert an endoscopic camera to view the heart, and to provide openings for the robot arms. In robot-assisted surgery, the surgeon sits at a console to manipulate the robot, viewing the surgery on a screen at the console.

There are a number of advantages to minimally invasive surgery on the heart. The healing time is dramatically decreased, because the patient does not need to recover from a large and sometimes traumatic chest incision. The risk of infection is also reduced, and the patient can generally regain normal activity levels within days. Using a robot also eliminates issues with tremors, a concern with delicate surgical procedures. This surgery is no more prone to complications than open heart surgery in most cases.

In addition to being better for the patient, robotic heart surgery has another potentially very useful application: it can be performed remotely. This allows patients with critical heart problems in remote areas to access the services of a top flight surgeon, assuming that they can gain access to a surgical robot. Proponents of robotic surgery have suggested that staffing rural hospitals with robots may be an effective way to increase access to advanced medical care in regions where it is difficult to hire and retain doctors.

A number of procedures can be performed with robotic assistance, including repair of congenital heart defects, valve repair, implantation of medical devices which assist the heart, and coronary artery bypass surgery. The patient will be placed under general anesthesia for robotic heart surgery, to increase safety and comfort, and he or she is attended by an anesthesiologist during the procedure. The surgical team tends to be smaller, because the surgeon does not require as many supportive nurses.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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