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Do Robotic Surgeries Outweigh the Cost?

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

By: Charles Lee

At what cost should robotic technology become fully utilized if its yield is just as similar, if not pricier than minimally invasive surgeries? According to a new finding, robotic surgery for hysterectomies not only costs one-third more than open surgery and the laparoscopic technique, but also provides minimal advantages, the Journal of the American Medical Association reports. This reflects what we believe after reviewing many cases for our clients, and with those cases our firm has filed.

Robotic technologies are hoping to be a fresh way for both doctors and patients to experience the common surgery where since the year 2000, over a thousand U.S. hospitals have invested in Intuitive Surgical Inc.’s robots. Each robot, also known as, da Vinci Surgical Systems, can range from $1.5 million-to-$2.2 million where its capabilities go beyond hysterectomies, in the fields of prostate, gallbladder, cardiovascular, and gynecological surgeries. One major issue we are investigating in litigation is to what degree physicians are properly trained in the more complicated surgeries and what unique risks are posed over traditional surgical methods.

While robotic surgery is promoted as less invasive and uses video cameras, critics argue that traditional surgeries can be done as “minimally invasive.” Also, conventional laparoscopic surgeries use video cameras, unique tools simply with the human hand, all at a lesser cost. Advocates of robotic surgery on the other hand, say the technology offers fewer scarring, pain, blood loss, complications, all on a lesser degree. With proposed faster recoveries and shorter hospital stays, the study’s lead author, associate professor of women’s health at Columbia University, Jason Wright, released the following statement: “There are so many options for hysterectomies now that patients should discuss the pros and cons of all of them with their doctors.”

Based on the records of 264,758 women of non-cancerous conditions who had hysterectomies, usage of robotic surgery rose nearly 5% of those studied and numbers of 20% appeared when in discussion with hospitals who already offered robotic surgery. The average cost to the hospital for the robotic hysterectomy was $8,868 in comparison to $6,679 for a laparoscopic procedure and $6,651 for the open surgery.

According to Intuitive Surgical Inc., robotic surgery is faster, easier to learn than customary procedures, in which more surgeons can offer it, and allows better access in complex cases such as when a patient is “morbidly obese or her uterus is large.” Due to the robot’s “wrists,” Dr. Curet, chief medical advisor for Intuitive Surgical Inc., has championed the precision and versatility of robots during surgery.

However, experts have not been able to justify the costs of the new technology. “We’ve got two options that give you the same outcome,” says Joel Weissman, editorial co-author and health policy expert. “One costs a lot more.” While robots are indeed advancing the skillsets and capabilities of the modern doctor, Marty Makary, a surgeon and patient safety researcher at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, said, “We can’t just adopt new technology because it’s cooler to use. It has to have established benefits for patients.”

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