The cost of robotic surgery — 10 things to know

Advancements in robotic technology provide opportunities for surgeons to perform minimally invasive surgeries. However, the associated costs with robots have many healthcare providers and patients hesitant to utilize the new technologies. Various physicians explain the benefits and costs of using robotic technologies.

Here are 10 things to note:

1. A 2015 Intuitive Surgical Analysis showed robot-assisted surgery increased rates of partial nephrectomy by 52 percent. Those patients undergoing a partial nephrectomy had a low risk for renal failure compared to patients undergoing a radical nephrectomy.

2. A 2013 study found robotic prostatectomy to cost an average of $2,118 to $2,274 more per case than a laparoscopic prostatectomy. However, this increased cost may be offset by advantages in long-term cases.

3. Robotic prostatectomy, according to a 2013 study, had a lower risk for organ injury and a lower rate of surgical margins for cancer. While more work is needed to confirm the findings, they are promising in showing how robotic surgery could potentially reduce cancer recurrence and the further need for treatment.

4. Robotic surgery is useful for surgeons when navigating narrow spaces that may be difficult to reach laparoscopically such as approaching the thoracic cavity through the abdomen. This open, minimally invasive technically allows patients to have better outcomes.

5. Richard Satava, MD, conducted a 2010 analysis showing the cost advantages of robotic surgeries. Hospital beds are saved by limiting the number of inpatient procedures and thus permitting a higher volume of procedures for patients who need to recuperate from other procedures.
6. Although robotic surgeries are beneficial for patient care, the cost associated with robotic technologies may hurt healthcare businesses. Terry Loftus, MD, states healthcare providers are purchasing robots based on past accounting with higher reimbursement rates. However, the robots are being bought in an environment where most cases are outpatient with lower reimbursement, resulting in a loss of profit for healthcare providers.

7. A recent study revealed robotic surgery is not as expensive as many providers believe. Although robotic procedures may be among facilities' more expensive cases, their OR costs are substantially less than those for nearly all orthopedic or cardiovascular procedures. Screws are among the highest costing items with a single screw costing anywhere from $900 to nearly $3,000.

8. Providers need to decide if overall quality care for patients outweighs the perceived hefty cost. Conor Delaney, MD, chief of colorectal surgery and vice chair of surgery at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, expands on this notion by stating robots are a great innovation, but overall robotic surgery has not yet provided clinical improvements.

9. Because no blanket statement exists regarding costs to patients for robotic system, the costs may vary based on various factors including pain management, patient coverage, complications and many others. Thus, costs differ depending on context making it difficult for physicians to put a dollar amount on robotic surgeries.

10. Regardless of these factors, data on hospital charges reveals robotic procedures tend to be more expensive for patients opposed to its laparoscopic or open counterparts.

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