We’ve all seen the commercials pushing robotic surgery as the latest and greatest technological advance in medicine. But study after study has been chipping away at the hype.
The latest study in November’s issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology compares robotically assisted with laparoscopic surgery for benign gynecologic disease. The results show robotic surgery brings higher costs and more complications than traditional minimally invasive surgeries.
The study looked at more than 87,000 operations that occurred from 2009 to 2012. Researchers found the rate of complication during robotic surgeries for oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) was 3.4 percent, compared with 2.1 percent for conventional surgery. There were complications during the procedure in 2.0 percent of robotic cystectomy operations (removal of ovarian cysts), compared with 0.9 percent in regular operations. Most of the increased number of injuries were bladder and ureter damage.
The study also found that robotic oophorectomy costs an average of $2,504 more than conventional surgery and that a robotic cystectomy cost $3,310 more.
The same researchers reported similar trends in a study of robot-assisted hysterectomies in 2012. Despite the extra cost and complications, the researchers found that the use of robots for these kinds of procedures is on the rise. According to the study, the increased use of robotic surgery was more pronounced in the western and southern parts of the country and among insured patients.
In a different study from last year, the lead researcher, Jason D. Wright, M.D., the chief of gynecologic oncology at Columbia University, concluded that “marketing influences appear to play a dominant role” in the increasing use of robotic gynecologic surgery. Recently, Dr. Wright said, “Patients need to understand the risks and benefits of different procedures. The newest most high-tech thing that’s available isn’t necessarily the best”.