A cholecystectomy is a surgical procedure for removing the gallbladder from the body. The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located beneath the liver. The gallbladder stores bile, a liver-produced emulsifier for fatty foods. Gallbladders are subject to a number of medical conditions, including inflammation, infections, and, most commonly, gallstones. Though a healthy gallbladder is an aid to digestion, its presence isn’t essential, and its loss can be compensated for by other organs.

Cholecystectomies are performed by means of open surgery, minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, and minimally invasive robotic surgery. In a robot-assisted cholecystectomy, the medical team uses sophisticated tools that replicate human movement and boost surgical success. Robot-assisted cholecystectomies are performed at Baptist Health facilities in Kentucky and Indiana.

Who Is a Candidate for a Robot-assisted Cholecystectomy?

Cholecystectomies are an effective means of treating gallstones. Gallstones are hard nodules that form in the gallbladder, blocking the release of bile and generating inflammation. In the most serious cases, gallstones can lead to organ rupture, releasing infection throughout the body. Gallstone symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain, which widens over time
  • Fever
  • Yellowing skin, known as jaundice
  • Nausea and bloat

Your physician will use an abdominal ultrasound to look for gallstones. You will also undergo bloodwork and a urinalysis. If gallstones are detected and your symptoms warrant it, you will be scheduled for an inpatient procedure. You will be asked to refrain from eating or drinking for several hours prior to the operation.

Most cholecystectomies are now performed as laparoscopic procedures. This includes robot-assisted cholecystectomies. There are a few exceptions. In unusually complex situations, open surgery may be required. If your gallbladder is excessively damaged, or scarred from a previous surgery, alternative treatments may be attempted.

Benefits of Robotic Surgery

It is important to note that a robotic procedure does not mean being operated on by a machine, rather than a fellow human. Robotic procedures are robot-assisted procedures, where the robot is a group of tools used by a surgeon and his or her medical team to aid in an operation. These tools are called robots because they mimic human motions and movements, sometimes with greater precision than we’re capable of.

A robot-assisted appendectomy is a minimally invasive procedure involving one to four minor incisions. It offers these benefits:

  • Smaller incisions than with open surgery, and therefore less blood loss
  • Reduced scarring
  • Lower risk of infection
  • Decreased post-surgical pain
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Quicker recovery times
  • Fewer post-operative complications
  • Faster return to normal living 

How Does Robot-assisted Cholecystectomy Work?

At Baptist Health, robot-assisted cholecystectomies are performed with the aid of the Intuitive da Vinci system. Intuitive is a leading American manufacturer of medical robots and related equipment.

The Intuitive da Vinci system has three parts:

  • a multi-armed robot for inserting cameras and other surgical instruments in the patient
  • a vision cart with endoscopic monitors that provide the surgeon with magnified, real-time images of the surgical site within the body
  • a computerized panel from which the surgeon controls the robot and performs the procedure 

A robotic cholecystectomy is conducted similarly to laparoscopic and other forms of minimally invasive surgery. The surgeon makes tiny incisions for the insertion of a three-dimensional camera – the surgeon’s eyes during the procedure – and other operating instruments for the detachment and removal of the gall bladder. However, a robot-assisted procedure has the advantage of greater precision than a human operating alone because robot technology downscales the surgeon’s hand motions to extremely fine movements, reducing the possibility of organ or tissue damage.

Joining the surgeon and the robot in the operating room are the entire surgical team, including the anesthesiologist, the nurses, and a second surgeon or surgical assistant for moving the robot into positions that aren’t mechanically controlled. A robot-assisted procedure is typically less than an hour in duration.

What to Expect with Robot-assisted Cholecystectomy

Discuss the procedure with your physician beforehand, including any medically necessary steps prior to coming to the hospital. You’ll be anesthetized and wholly unconscious during the operation. In most cases, you’ll be able to go home the day of the procedure. If a rupture occurred prior to surgery, you might spend additional time in the hospital, to be treated for the remnants of infection. You will likely experience some abdominal pain, which can usually be managed with over-the-counter medications. Your discomfort will improve with recovery.

A full recovery from surgery typically takes a week or two. Your physical activity will be limited for the first couple days of that period. Be sure to schedule a follow-up visit with your surgeon two to three weeks after the procedure.

Know Your Risk

Baptist Health is committed to being a leading medical provider of robot-assisted diagnosis and surgery in Kentucky and Southern Indiana. If you have questions or concerns about your abdominal health, please contact your Baptist Health Primary Care provider.