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Robot-Assisted Surgery Costs More But May Not Be Better

Hospitals tout the technique, but two studies find they’re longer and pricier than laparoscopy

Robot-assisted surgeries—a technology oft-touted by hospitals—are longer and more expensive than other types of minimally invasive surgeries, according to a growing body of studies. And in some types of surgery, they have a lower success rate.

Two studies published online last week in JAMA compared robotic-assisted surgeries to laparoscopic surgeries. Both are minimally invasive procedures done through small incisions, designed to avoid the large incisions made in open surgeries, which often result in more pain and complications.

“The robot is essentially just a surgical tool,” says David Jayne, a consulting surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospital, a National Health Service hospital in England and lead author of one of the JAMA studies. “The operation is exactly the same as the laparoscopic operation. So there’s always been a big question mark about whether it’s going to result in any different outcomes.”

In laparoscopy, a tiny camera and surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions. In robotic-assisted surgery, the surgeon operates a console that controls robotic arms attached to surgical instruments and a camera, while looking through a viewer that provides a three-dimensional view of the patient’s anatomy.

In Dr. Jayne’s study, researchers compared the robotic-assisted and laparoscopic surgeries among 471 rectal cancer patients undergoing a resection, or removal of part of the rectum.

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