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New Concerns on Robotic Surgery Costs, Complications

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September 10, 2013 — In next month’s issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, researchers have found more evidence that hysterectomies performed with a da Vinci Surgical Robot are more expensive but offer no clinical benefit over minimally-invasive laparoscopic surgical methods.

When researchers compared data on robotic vs. laparoscopic hysterectomies, they found both methods had a complication rate of nearly 9%. However, the cost of robotic surgery was $2,489 more expensive.

The study corroborates findings in a similar study published in JAMA earlier this year, which estimated an increased cost of $2,189 per robotic hysterectomy, with no reduction in adverse events.

These findings are contrary to marketing claims, which promise patients faster recovery and a lower risk of complications from robot-assisted surgery. They may also be inaccurate, because other recent studies suggest that adverse events from robot surgery are under-reported.

Robot Surgery Complications “Vastly Under-reported”

The percentage of hysterectomies performed with a surgical robot has grown from 0.5% in 2007 to 9.5% in 2010. As the popularity has grown, so has concern about inadequate doctor training and underreporting of adverse events. Although over 1 million procedures have been performed with the da Vinci Surgical Robot, fewer than 200 adverse events have been reported to the FDA.

Researchers warned that adverse events are “vastly under-reported,” according to a study published last week in The Journal for Healthcare Quality.

As an example, the New York Times cited the case of Erin Izumi, a woman settled a robot surgery lawsuit in May 2012. In 2009, during an 11-hour robotic surgery, she suffered multiple intestinal perforations. She was hospitalized for five weeks and required several corrective surgeries. Her injuries were not reported to the FDA until she filed a lawsuit. Intuitive Surgical is now facing more than 26 robot surgery lawsuits.

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