Why You Want Robotic Colorectal Surgery


By Dr. Mark Parker

Twenty years ago, we did not have the ability to use robotics in colorectal surgery, but we are so thankful that we now have this technology, and we use it often at the Alabama Colon and Rectal Institute. The big benefits of robotics in surgery are that they improve our visualization and range of motion, and this leads to a minimally invasive approach.

It’s the best technology from a standpoint of visualization particularly when we are performing difficult work. For instance, when we are deep in a patient’s pelvis doing a delicate cancer operation, we need to be able to see as much and as clearly as possible, and robotic instruments allow for that magnification.

These types of difficult surgeries also require the absolute best range of motion possible. The robotic instruments are known as “wristed,” meaning that they rotate in a 360 degree pattern. Our hand and wrist can only rotate in a 210 degree motion, so the robotic arm can twist ergonomically in a way a human wrist cannot.


That’s all great, but do I still have to stay in the hospital?

It will depend on your type of surgery. In our field, we use robotics for any abdominal surgery that requires a resection. So this would mean many cancer surgeries, plus abdominal surgery for diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis. We use robotics in all of those surgeries, and they do require a hospital stay.

But with robotics, we are able to make smaller incisions, which results in less pain and a quicker recovery time. Therefore, you get back to work in less time, and you can also get back to your normal daily life and activities faster.

The surgery is the same though. You are getting the same surgery that you would have had 20 years ago without the use of robotics. We can just do it so much better now. 

So while there is a stay at the hospital, your stay will be significantly shorter. With an open case not involving robotics, you would typically be in the hospital for around a week. With the use of robotics, you will stay 2 to 3 nights. This is a huge benefit.


But I don’t feel comfortable with a robot doing my surgery...

This is a big misconception we hear often. Some people do mistakenly think that the robot will actually perform the surgery. This is not the case. We remind people when necessary and want everyone to understand that the robot is simply a very expensive instrument that is always in the hands of the surgeon. The robot doesn’t do anything that the surgeon does not tell it to do. It does not operate independently or do any maneuvers that the surgeon is not performing. This means we are always in control of what’s happening, but we are utilizing the benefits of the robot to help us with the visualization and range of motion mentioned above.

Everything points to the fact that the use of robotics in colorectal surgery is an extremely positive technology that very much improves outcomes for patients. We hope this post clears up any concerns or misconceptions. Always feel free to ask the doctors and nurses on our staff any questions you may have.

Alabama Colon & Rectal Institute (also known as the “Butt Hut” around town!) has been in practice since 1990 as a free standing, private practice located in downtown Birmingham, Alabama.  We are known for our efficiency and patient care, in a more relaxed office-based setting.  Our doctors are known regionally for their expertise and are active in teaching surgical residents and other physicians.  We are also a major sponsor of The Rumpshaker 5K, a race that promotes awareness about colorectal cancer.  Check out our website for more information, or give us a call to make an appointment at (205) 458-5000, or email us at [email protected].