Robotic Surgery - Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages and Disadvantages

Major advances aided by surgical robots have been remote surgery, minimally invasive surgery and unmanned surgery. Due to robotic use, the surgery is done with precision, miniaturization, smaller incisions, decreased blood loss, less pain, and quicker healing time. Articulation beyond normal manipulation and three-dimensional magnification helps resulting in improved ergonomics. Due to these techniques there is a reduced duration of hospital stays, blood loss, transfusions, and use of pain medication.

The robot normally costs $1,390,000 and while its disposable supply cost is normally $1,500 per procedure, the cost of the procedure is higher. Additional surgical training is needed to operate the system. Numerous feasibility studies have been done to determine whether the purchase of such systems are worthwhile. As it stands, opinions differ dramatically. Surgeons report that, although the manufacturers of such systems provide training on this new technology, the learning phase is intensive and surgeons must operate on twelve to eighteen patients before they adapt. Moreover during the training phase, minimally invasive operations can take up to twice as long as traditional surgery, leading to operating room tie ups and surgical staffs keeping patients under anesthesia for longer periods. Patient surveys indicate they chose the procedure based on expectations of decreased morbidity, improved outcomes, reduced blood loss and less pain. Higher expectations may explain higher rates of dissatisfaction and regret.

Advantages of this technique are that the incisions are small and patient recovery is quick. In traditional open-heart surgery, the surgeon makes a ten to twelve-inch incision, then gains access to the heart by splitting the sternum (breast bone) and spreading open the rib cage. The patient is then placed on a heart-lung machine and the heart is stopped for a period of time during the operation. This approach can be associated with postoperative infection and pain, and prolonged time to complete recovery. Because patient recovery after robot-assisted heart surgery is quicker, the hospital stay is shorter. On average patients leave the hospital two to five days earlier than patients who have undergone traditional open-heart surgery and return to work and normal activity 50% more quickly. Reduced recovery times are not only better for the patient, they also reduce the number of staff needed during surgery, nursing care required after surgery, and, therefore, the overall cost of hospital stays.

Compared with other minimally invasive surgery approaches, robot-assisted surgery gives the surgeon better control over the surgical instruments and a better view of the surgical site. In addition, surgeons no longer have to stand throughout the surgery and do not tire as quickly. Naturally occurring hand tremors are filtered out by the robot’s computer software. Finally, the surgical robot can continuously be used by rotating surgery teams.

Critics of the system say there is a steep learning curve for surgeons who adopt use of the system and that there's a lack of studies that indicate long-term results are superior to results following traditional laparoscopic surgery. Articles in the newly created Journal of Robotic Surgery tend to report on one surgeon’s experience.

A Medicare study found that some procedures that have traditionally been performed with large incisions can be converted to "minimally invasive" endoscopic procedures with the use of the Da Vinci, shortening length-of-stay in the hospital and reducing recovery times. But because of the hefty cost of the robotic system it is not clear that it is cost-effective for hospitals and physicians despite any benefits to patients since there is no additional reimbursement paid by the government or insurance companies when the system is used.

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