Minimally invasive surgery, introduced by gynecologists in the 1970s, is a surgical approach where small incisions are made to insert instruments that allow the surgeon to work inside the body. Incisions used in minimally invasive surgery are about ¼- to ½-inch long, compared to a four- to eight-inch-long incision used in a standard “open” surgical approach. In minimally invasive surgery, a tiny video camera, called a laparoscope, is inserted through one of the small incisions so the surgeon can see your abdomen and pelvis on a video monitor as he or she works (called laparoscopy).
The first gynecological procedures done using minimally invasive techniques involved surgery for sterilization, such as tubal ligations. Over the years, we have expanded our surgical skills as a specialty to include other procedures, such as hysterectomy and some cancer surgeries. Minimally invasive techniques are also commonly used to remove the gallbladder and to perform appendectomies. Many other fields make use of these techniques, including cardiology, urology, neurology, and gastroenterology.
The biggest advantage of minimally invasive surgery is that it can frequently be performed on an outpatient basis, allowing the patient to go home the same day. This in turn allows for a faster recovery and return to work, exercise and daily activities. Other benefits include less blood loss, lower rates of infection, shorter hospital stays (which can cut down significantly on hospital costs), and the need for less postoperative pain medication and less apparent scars.
A few important things to be aware of are: not all surgeries can be performed using minimally invasive techniques, not all patients are candidates for this approach and not all surgeons have adequate training and experience to use this approach safely and realize its potential benefits. Some procedures require additional or specialized training in minimally invasive techniques. Talk to your physician about their experience with minimally invasive approaches – your safety is the first priority.
As surgical innovation continues to evolve it affords us more tools to improve surgical safety and outcomes for our patients. Newer minimally invasive techniques include robotic-assisted surgery and single-incision surgery. Talk to your provider for more information.