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Robotic surgery costs more money and time than key hole surgery, studies show


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A study carried out by Jeong et al looked at the length, outcomes, and health care costs of robotic-assisted surgery and operations carried out without any robotic assistance in the US.

Their findings showed that between 2003 and 2015 patients who underwent radical nephrectomy (removal of a kidney) showed no difference in complication rates or hospital stay lengths irrespective of whether it was laparoscopic (keyhole surgery) or robotic procedures. Where they did differ, however, is in the length of the procedure and the cost per patient.

The researchers at the Stanford University Medical Center 240000 kidney removal surgeries in 416 hospitals across the US and noted a massive increase (almost 23 fold) in the number of robot-assisted kidney removal surgeries in the span of 12 years. So, should this lead us to conclude that it's a more efficient technique?

Chung and colleagues do not think that's the case because while robot-assisted surgeries can offer a higher degree of precision, they were also "almost twice as likely as traditional procedures to take longer than four hours" and the health care cost amounted to an extra $3,500 likely due to the upkeep and extra time required in the operating theatre.

A similar study looked into a clinical trial including 471 rectal cancer surgery patients to assess the risk and efficacy of robot-assisted surgery between 2011 and 2014.

Amongst patients with a rectal malignant tumor, robot surgery did appear to significantly reduce the risks or improve quality of life in post-op suggesting that it doesn't hold an advantage over regular cancer resection. Furthermore, the robot-assisted operations were about 37 minutes longer, increasing the cost as a result by 1,000$.

What do these results mean?

The use of Surgical robots like the famous da Vinci surgical system has skyrocketed in the last few decades.

While this amazing new technology offers unprecedented precision, control as well as enhanced vision into the body during complicated procedures such as a prostate removal, however, there doesn't seem to be enough evidence to support its use in simpler ones like in the case of kidney removal.

These studies don't undermine the importance of surgical robots but highlight that the extra money and time spent using them may not yield any significant advantages.


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