Robotics drawback

Kidney removal takes longer and costs more when robots assist surgeons, a new study says.

Robot illustration

It’s intriguing to consider how much more quickly we can accomplish things with help from robots, but a multiyear analysis shows that same efficiency might not be playing out yet in some operating rooms.

A Stanford study of thousands of laparoscopic kidney-removal surgeries from 2003 to 2015 showed that those performed with the help of robots resulted in surgeries that were slightly longer and more expensive.

“Although there was no statistical difference in outcome or length of hospital stay, the robotic-assisted surgeries cost more and had a higher probability of prolonged operative time,” says Benjamin Chung, MD, associate professor of urology and senior author of a study published Oct. 24 in JAMA.

Researchers speculate that the discrepancy might be because extra time is needed to set up a robotic operating room or because a surgeon is early in the learning curve for using the technology, which was relatively new in 2003 when the study began.

But don’t expect an end to the use of robots in operating rooms. While researchers say this particular surgery takes longer, the dexterity and high-tech magnification capabilities of robots can be invaluable to surgeons during procedures with a lot of delicate maneuvering and extensive internal suturing.

“There’s a certain incentive” to use the latest technology in medicine, but benefits must be weighed against cost, Chung says. “Although robotic surgery has some advantages, are those advantages relevant enough in this type of case to justify an increase in cost?”