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Report: Robotic Surgery May Cost More Than It's Worth

When comparing traditional and robotically assisted laparoscopic procedures, researchers found that patient outcomes were comparable, but robotics cost more in time and dollars. (Image credit: Bernard Stoloff/Flickr)

When comparing traditional and robotically assisted laparoscopic procedures, researchers found that patient outcomes were comparable, but robotics cost more in time and dollars.

Researchers compared patients who underwent traditional laparoscopy to have a kidney removed — surgery involving several small incisions rather than one large cut — with patients who received robot-assisted laparoscopies. Although the two groups had similar complication rates and hospital stay lengths, robotic procedures took longer and cost more per patient, researchers report in the Oct. 24 JAMA.

Analyzing data from 2003 to 2015, the researchers found that robotically assisted laparoscopies for kidney removal increased from just 39 to 862, the latter of which was higher than traditional laparoscopies for the same year.

But [Benjamin] Chung and colleagues’ analysis casts doubt on the cost-effectiveness of those high-tech operations. Robot-assisted laparoscopies were almost twice as likely as traditional procedures to take longer than four hours. And robot assistance boosted the average hospital cost from $16,851 to $19,530 — probably because of extra operating room time and the cost of robot maintenance.

This is not to say that robotics have no place in the operating room:

Surgical robots constitute “an amazing technology,” [Gabi] Barbash says, and they’re invaluable for some notoriously tricky procedures, like prostate removal. But simpler procedures, such as kidney removal, may not call for a robot in the OR.

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