Laparoscopic and robotic surgery: What’s the difference?

July 30, 2015 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • Minimally invasive surgery often results in a shorter hospital stay and an easier overall recovery.

  • You have options for minimally invasive surgery procedures.

  • Providence Health surgeons can help you determine whether laparoscopic or robotic surgery is appropriate for you and your procedure.

Most doctors and patients would agree: minimally-invasive surgery is preferable to open surgery. It often results in less postoperative pain, shorter hospital stays, and easier recovery. 

Sometimes patients have a choice between two minimally-invasive techniques: laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgery. Only you and your doctor can decide which is best in your case. But read on to learn the basics and what to expect with both methods.

Laparoscopic surgery

With traditional “open” surgery, your surgeon uses one large incision to perform a procedure. With laparoscopic surgery, the surgeon makes several small incisions and inserts small tools – including a video camera – to perform the procedure. The video images are displayed on a monitor and the surgeon watches the screen to move the tools and do his or her work.

The advantages of laparoscopic surgery – and, really, any minimally-invasive option – are mostly related to having small incisions rather than one large one: there’s less blood loss, less pain, and less noticeable scars. There are also economic benefits: a shorter hospital stay generally means lower medical costs, and a faster recovery means you can get back to work sooner.

Laparoscopic surgery does have some limitations, however: the video images associated with it are two-dimensional. And the tools can have a limited range of motion – up and down and side to side – which can make it tricky to work in tight spaces.  On the flip side, laparoscopic surgeons are able to use the familiar sensations of pressure and other tactile movements to manipulate the tools.

Robotic surgery

Minimally invasive surgery such as laparoscopic and robotic-guided surgery can mean a shorter hospital stay and an easier recovery.

Robotic surgery is similar to a laparoscopic procedure in many respects: the surgeon makes several small incisions and uses a video camera and instruments to guide his or her work.

The difference with robotic surgery is that the surgeon sits at a computer and uses hand controls to manipulate the robot – rather than holding and manipulating the tools themselves, as with laparoscopic surgery. And the imagery is three-dimensional, high definition, and magnified – all of which allow for better vision and greater precision.

The other distinguishing factor is that the instruments used for robotic surgery are “wristed” – they move like a hand. This provides a greater range of motion and more precision, which can mean less manipulation of tissues, less bleeding, and less post-operative pain than with laparoscopic surgery.

Is robotic surgery safe?

Most hospitals have at least one robotic surgical machine. Many surgeons believe robotic surgery is advantageous for surgeries in small spaces like the head and neck, with extremely obese patients where hands-on surgery can be difficult and for gynecologic and urologic surgeries. According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly 80 percent of prostate removal surgeries are now done with robotic surgery.


Find a doctor

Are you or a family member facing a surgical procedure? Consider asking your surgeon about a minimally invasive option. If you are looking for a surgeon, you can find a Providence specialist here.  Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services. 

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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