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Gallbladder operations using the laparoscopy surgical technique have been endorsed by a panel of experts convened at the National Institutes of Health.

The panel of 13 doctors from a variety of specialities said Wednesday that laparoscopy "provides a safe and effective alternative" to traditional gallbladder surgery, which requires a wide incision and a long recovery.Laparoscopic surgery "appears to have become the treatment of choice for most patients with symptomatic gallstones," said Dr. John Gollan, the panel chairman.

Gallbladder laparoscopy was introduced into the United States in 1988 and the panel said 80 percent of all gallbladder operations are now done using the technique.

The surgery usually requires only an overnight stay in the hospital plus a one-to two-week convalescence. Traditional surgery, using a wide abdominal incision, usually requires five days in a hospital and a three- to six-week convalescence.

Laparoscopic cholecystectomy, the formal name for the technique, involves the use of four half-inch incisions. Surgeons use one incision to thread into the abdomen a fiber optic tube tipped with a video camera. The other small incisions are used to introduce remotely controlled instruments that can cut, staple, dissect, clamp and remove the diseased gallbladder.