Frequently Asked Questions about Minimally-Invasive and Robotic Surgery

Q: What does "minimally invasive surgery" mean?

Also called MIS, keyhole, laparoscopic or endoscopic surgery, minimally invasive surgery is performed with very small incisions, cameras and miniature instruments. Some minimally invasive surgeries can even be done with a robot, which are then called robot-assisted minimally invasive surgeries.

Q: How is minimally invasive surgery different from traditional surgery?

Minimally invasive surgery is less traumatic to the body's tissues and organs. For example, a traditional open abdominal surgery requires a large incision, usually four to five inches long, through skin and muscle. In a laparoscopic minimally invasive procedure, several incisions ranging from 3-12mm are needed to access the abdominal cavity. The surgeon then inserts a long telescope-like instrument called a laparoscope into one of the incisions to peer into the body. The laparoscope feeds images to a TV monitor positioned in front of the surgeon. The additional incisions allow access for pencil-thin instruments that allow the surgeon to complete the operation.

Q: If laparoscopy, arthroscopy and endoscopy are all minimally invasive surgeries, what's the difference?

Each of those words describes surgery that requires only small incisions and the use of a laparoscope and miniature instruments. The term "laparoscopy" refers to surgery performed in the abdomen using a laparoscope. When a specialized laparoscopic surgery is performed in a joint, it's called "arthroscopy." When conducted using a natural opening in the body, such as the mouth or nose, it's called "endoscopy."

Q: How is robotic surgery different from minimally invasive surgery?

Robotic surgery is the least invasive, most precise type of minimally invasive surgery that employs the highly specialized instrumentation of the da Vinci® Surgery System. Because minimally invasive surgery uses very small incisions, there are limitations on what surgeons are able to see and what instruments they're able to use. Until now, those limitations prevented some types of complex surgeries, such as hysterectomy and prostatectomy, from being performed through minimally invasive techniques. That's where da Vinci® comes in. The da Vinci® robot overcomes these limitations using cameras that provide true 3D images and even advanced instrumentation similar to the human hand. Robotic assistance gives surgeons the ability to perform some complex operations faster and easier, while improving patient safety.

Q: How does robotic surgery benefit me?

Robotic surgery, available now at Providence St. Vincent Medical CenterProvidence Portland Medical Center and Providence Medford Medical Center, offers many benefits to you including:

  • reduced pain and trauma
  • fewer complications
  • less blood loss and need for transfusions
  • less post-operative pain and discomfort
  • less risk of infection
  • shorter hospital stay
  • faster recovery and return to your life
  • less scarring and improved appearance

Q: How do I find a physician who uses the robotic surgery system?

Surgeons must be certified to use the da Vinci® Surgical System. View the list of certified robotic surgeons at Providence hospitals.

Q: Is robotic surgery covered by insurance?

Robotic surgery is categorized as robot-assisted minimally invasive surgery, so any insurance that covers minimally invasive surgery generally covers robotic surgery. This is true for widely held insurance plans like Medicare. It is important to note that your coverage will depend on your plan and benefits package.

Q. Does robotic surgery make the surgeon unnecessary?

It is important to know that surgery with da Vinci® does not place a robot at the controls; your surgeon is controlling every aspect of the surgery using the technology of the da Vinci® robotic platform. With robotic surgery, small incisions are used to introduce miniaturized wristed instruments and a high-definition 3D camera into the body. Seated at the console, your surgeon views a magnified, high-resolution 3D image of the surgical site. At the same time, state-of-the-art robotic and computer technologies scale, filter and seamlessly translate your surgeon's hand movements into precise micro-movements of the instruments.

Q. How do I request minimally invasive surgery at Providence?

Minimally invasive options may not be available for every type of surgery. To explore whether MIS through Providence is right for you, please talk with your doctor about your minimally invasive surgical options.

Q. How do I prepare for minimally invasive surgery?

Follow the instructions provided by your doctor to prepare for surgery. For additional assistance, contact our Pre-Surgery Clinic and read our “Step-by-Step Guide for Surgery Patients.”

Q. How can I learn more about the da Vinci® Robotic Surgery System?

To learn more about the da Vinci® Robotic Surgery System, visit