When it comes to undergoing surgery, is opting for a minimally invasive procedure always best? According to Dr. Har Chi Lau, a surgeon at Hudson Valley Surgical Group in Sleepy Hollow, the answer is a bit more complicated than a simple "yes."
Before making any surgical decisions, it's important to first understand what minimally invasive surgery is. "Minimally invasive surgery is performing an operation using cameras, smaller incisions and robotics, rather than using hands and an open surgery," said Lau. First pioneered in the 1980s, this approach has become increasingly common. Touting less cutting, minimal scarring and reduced recovery times, these surgeries have become the gold standard for a variety of procedures.
However, Lau cautions against simply choosing a doctor out of convenience and going ahead with a robotic procedure. "A doctor needs to be able to convert to an open surgical procedure [should something go wrong]," he said. "In today's day and age, that is a rarity." Since most doctors are trained exclusively in robotic surgery, if issues arise during an operation and an open, more invasive procedure is needed, surgeons might be uncomfortable with a traditional approach.
Taking into account a person's overall health is equally important before choosing a surgery. For instance, people who are obese may not be good candidates for robotic surgery, as gaining access to the surgical site can require dangerous amounts of air pressure to move aside flesh and organs.
Despite these shortcomings, minimally invasive surgery often works well and has become the safer option for many common procedures. "Hernia surgery is something that has seen a large drop in danger levels," said Lau. "Colon surgery has also seen a reduced risk since minimally invasive surgery became common." When dealing with growths -- both benign and cancerous -- in sensitive areas such as the colon and rectum, minimally invasive surgeries are invaluable and eliminate problems before they become deadly.
As medicine moves more and more into the realm of science fiction, Lau sees robotic surgery increasing in popularity. "While Hollywood often predicts the future, and one day we may not need a surgeon to do much in the OR, technology has not gotten us to the robot just yet," he said. In the meantime, he urges patients to find the right doctor, ask the right questions and choose the correct procedure for themselves, regardless of the newest technology available.
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