Study: Robots more expensive, not more effective for surgery

Although surgical robots are a must-have for many hospitals and health systems looking to keep pace with their competitors, such technology isn't necessarily any more effective than regular surgery, according to a new study published this week in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

In a study of nearly 2,500 women treated for endometrial cancer, no significant differences were found in the complication rates for women who underwent robotic hysterectomies (1,437) versus women who underwent laparoscopic hysterectomies (1,027). Specifically, 9.8 percent of patients who underwent the procedure without robotic assistance experienced complications--such as bladder injuries or wound infections, according to a Reuters article--while 8.1 percent of patients whose surgeon used a robot experienced such complications.

According to the study's authors, however, the use of a robot bumped the price of the procedure up by nearly $1,300.

"Robotic surgery is clearly associated with higher costs, without any clear advantages," lead author Jason Wright, a gynecologic surgeon at Columbia University, told Reuters.

Despite the findings, Mario Leitao, a gynecologic oncologist with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, disagreed with Wright and his colleagues in an editorial accompanying the study. Leitao also serves as a consultant for Intuitive Surgical Inc.--creator of the da Vinci surgical robot.

"We should not give up on this new technology simply because early [comparative effectiveness research] tells us that robotic hysterectomies may be too costly to perform," Leitao wrote. "How will we ever advance innovative technology in surgery if we cannot understand and accept the associated start-up costs?"

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- read Leitao's commentary (.pdf)
- check out the Reuters article

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