Expensive robots may not be making surgeons — or patients — much better

From The Washington Post:

Sixteen years ago, U.S. regulators approved a robotic surgery system named after a Renaissance genius: da Vinci. Hospitals, in a technological arms race to offer the most cutting-edge medical care, began to buy up the da Vinci Surgical System — and to advertise it on websites and billboards. Today, machines made by Intuitive Surgical, which still offers the only robotic-assisted surgical system in the United States, can cost up to $2 million. The vast majority of prostate cancer surgeries in the United States are done with its robotic assistance. The system magnifies the surgical site on a large screen and allows surgeons to control robotic arms from a console, with hand grips and foot pedals.

So it seems a little late for this: On Tuesday, the Lancet journal published the results of a randomized, controlled trial that compared robot-assisted prostate surgeries to traditional versions of the procedure. The Australian physicians who conducted the study concluded that the outcomes were similar and there was no reason to recommend the futuristic version over the old-fashioned one. The study found that — at 12 weeks follow-up — there was no significant difference in patients’ sexual function or urinary control. The group that had robotic surgeries had less pain at a day and a week after surgery, but both groups returned to work equally as fast.

The Australian team will continue to track the 250 men in their study to see if differences emerge at one and two years following surgery.

“In the interim, we encourage patients to choose an experienced surgeon they trust and with whom they have rapport, rather than a specific surgical approach,” the research team wrote.

The data isn’t exactly a strike against robot-assisted surgeries for prostate cancer; there were benefits. Patients who underwent …

Continue Reading