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What does it mean to have minimally invasive surgery? Understanding the risks and rewards.

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Surgeons performing minimally invasive surgey

Smaller incisions make this surgery an appealing option for many people.

Imagine that an incision or cut about the size of a dime could be used to perform a surgery. With the help of a robotic device, a surgery team can do many delicate surgeries through a smaller opening.

It isn’t possible to perform every surgery like this. Common procedures include those for cancer surgery, spinal surgery and general surgery. Your doctor will let you know if you’re a good fit for it. Or what option may be best for you.

How does it work?

Laparoscopic surgery is an operation that is done with a small cut, usually through the abdomen or pelvis. A laparoscope is a tool with a small, flexible tube attached to a light and a lens for viewing.

During laparoscopic surgery, your care team will do the operation with a camera and tools that are connected to robotic arms. The surgeons control the arms by looking at the 3D camera views of the operating area.

The tiny arms on the robot allow them to access areas that would be tough to reach otherwise.

“Robotic surgery offers surgeons the ability to use robotic instruments that are even more precise than the human hand in a space that would usually require a very large incision,” said Josh Schulte, MD, a general surgeon at PeaceHealth in Sedro-Woolley, Washington.

What are the benefits of minimally invasive surgery?

Minimally invasive surgery is still a surgery, so you’ll have a bit of a recovery period. Compared to traditional surgery, however, its smaller incisions often mean:

  • Quicker recovery
  • Less pain
  • Less scarring

Getting back to everyday life sooner might also be possible when your provider says it's okay.

Open surgery typically has a bigger cut for the opening and longer recovery after the operation.

In contrast, Dr. Schulte says, you may not need to stay in the hospital to have a minimally invasive procedure done. “The advancing technology is allowing surgeries that used to require prolonged hospitalization to be performed as an outpatient or brief stay in the hospital.” said Dr. Schulte.

What surgeries are suitable?

At PeaceHealth, many surgeries can be done using robotic assisted systems. Some options that are available include:

  • Cancer surgery: Procedures for cancers such as colorectal, lung, cervical, prostate, pancreatic, and head and neck.
  • Gynecologic and urogynecologic (pelvic floor) surgery: Procedures for hysterectomies and uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, urinary incontinence and pelvic prolapse.
  • Spine surgery: Surgeries like spinal fusion for neck and back conditions.
  • General surgery: Surgeries including those for hernia, liver disease and gastroesophageal reflux like GERD.
  • Head and neck surgery: Procedures for sinus, thyroid and parathyroid, larynx (voice box) and tonsils.

If you have an upcoming surgery, talk with your doctor to see if there is a minimally invasive option.

portrait of Joshua D. Schulte MD

Joshua D. Schulte MD

General Surgery
Joshua Schulte, MD, joined the PeaceHealth Medical Group Specialty Clinic in Sedro-Woolley as a general surgeon in August of 2022. Dr. Schulte brings 10 years of experience as a board-certified general surgeon providing a broad range of elective and emergency procedures in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He comes to PeaceHealth from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he worked as general surgeon at the University of Minnesota/Fairview Southdale hospital. He earned his medical degree at the American University of Integrated Sciences in 2007 and completed his surgical residency at Michigan State University/Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies in 2012. Dr. Schulte became a paramedic in 2000 and worked for three years for Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis providing advanced emergency pre-hospital care. This experience sparked his interest in medicine. "Working as first responder in a busy urban environment prepared me for challenging situations and fueled my desire to become a physician," Dr. Schulte said. "I ultimately chose to become a general surgeon as I enjoy participating in my patients' care from their initial diagnosis all the way to their final post-operative appointment. I get tremendous gratification from treating surgical conditions that help my patients return to a normal and fulfilling life." Dr. Schulte's specialties include minimally invasive surgery for hernias and reflux, breast surgery, colon surgery and endoscopy. He describes his practice philosophy as this: "I believe my patients should always be treated with kindness, respect and integrity. I listen and attend to my patients, making every effort to understand their needs. I work hard to assure that my patients are fully informed and are able to actively participate in making decisions about their care. I also strive to use the latest technology and minimally-invasive techniques, giving my patients the advantages of lower risk, less pain and a faster recovery time." In his free time, Dr. Schulte enjoys spending time with his family, hiking, climbing, cycling, running, traveling and skiing.