Conference Coverage

Robot-assisted surgery: Twice the price



– Robot-assisted operations for inguinal hernia repair (IHR) and cholecystectomy have grown steadily in recent years, but these procedures can be done equally well by traditional operations at a fraction of the cost, according to a study from Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania.

Minimally Invasive Robotic Surgery with the da Vinci Surgical System. Master Video/Shutterstock

Minimally invasive robotic surgery with the da Vinci Surgical System.

“Overall in either the inguinal hernia or cholecystectomy groups, the robotic surgery group had the highest cost total,” Dr. Vogels said at the annual meeting of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons. “There was no outcome advantage for either the robotic inguinal hernia repair or robotic cholecystectomy in this study.” The outcomes the study measured were 30-day readmission and 30-day mortality. Demographics across all study groups were similar.

Dr. Vogels quoted statistics from the ECRI Institute that showed robotic surgery procedures have increased 178% between 2009 and 2014, and the two procedures the group studied are the most frequently performed robotic procedures.

Within the Geisinger system, the study found a 3:1 cost disparity for IHR: $6,292 total cost for hospital-based robotic surgery vs. $3,421 for ASC-based laparoscopy IHR and $1,853 for ASC-based open repair. For cholecystectomy, the disparity isn’t as wide – it’s 2:1 – but is still significant: Total costs for hospital-based robotic surgery are $6,057 vs. $3,443 for ASC-based cholecystectomy and $3,270 for hospital-based laparoscopic cholecystectomy (the study did not include any open cholecystectomies).

Total costs not only include costs for the procedure but also all related pre- and postoperative care. The cost analysis did not account for the cost of the robot, including maintenance contracts, or costs for laparoscopic instruments. Variable costs also ranged from about $3,000 for robotic IHR to $942 for ASC open repair – which means the lowest per-procedure cost for the latter was around $900.

“Translating this into the fact that cholecystectomies and inguinal hernia repairs are the most often performed general surgery procedures, ambulatory surgery centers can save over $60 billion over the next 10 years in just overhead costs as well as increased efficiency,” Dr. Vogels said.

The study also found access issues depending on where patients had their operations. “As far as service and access in our institution alone, we found that patients going to the main hospital spent as much as two times longer getting these procedures done as compared to the ambulatory surgery centers,” Dr. Vogels said.

Robotic procedures also required longer operative times, the study found – an average of 109 minutes for IHR vs. about an hour for ASC procedures and hospital-based open surgery (but averaging 78 minutes for in-hospital laparoscopy); and 73 minutes for robotic cholecystectomy, 60 minutes for hospital laparoscopy, and 45 minutes for ASC laparoscopy.

Robotic session moderator Dmitry Oleynikov, MD, FACS, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, asked Dr. Vogels if putting a robotic platform in an ambulatory surgery setting would make it more cost effective.

That’s not practical from a cost or efficiency perspective, she said.

“When you look at the cost of the ASCs, specifically in the hernia group, the lowest-cost hernia repair is about $800; with the robot it’s going to be significantly higher than that, up to three times higher than that,” Dr. Vogels replied. “Then you’re also changing all those simple ambulatory surgery procedures to more involved robotic procedures, so it’s hard to justify doing that in the ASC.”

Dr. Vogels and her coauthors had no relevant financial disclosures.

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