The recent news is full of reports of hospitals purchasing million dollar robots for surgeons to use when they perform operations. The robots are used in all kinds of surgeries including bariatric procedures, hernia repairs, gall bladder removal, appendectomies, and a host of other surgeries. NBC News presented an informative report titled, The da Vinci surgical robot: A medical breakthrough with risks for patients. You can see the entire report here.
The NBC News report focused on a particular type of robot, the da Vinci Surgical System. It is a robotic surgical system made by the American company Intuitive Surgical. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2000, it is designed to facilitate complex surgery using a minimally invasive approach, and is controlled by a surgeon from a console.
Many experienced and competent surgeons I have spoken with tell me there is little need for robots in surgery. I am certain many of those surgeons are making a valid point while others may feel threatened by new technology. So, wonder why two of the largest hospitals in southwest Virginia, Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and LewisGale Medical Center are singing the praises of their new robots…and pushing doctors and patients to use the technology? My bet is that the da Vinci system is a money maker. My bet is these hospitals are pushing robotic surgeries because they can send the patient a larger bill for a robotic assisted surgery. That is okay if robotic assistance is truly an advancement for patient outcome and safety. However, I bet that many times the risks to the patient outweigh any potential benefit. The NBC News report describes what little experience and training some surgeons have with this new technology. Lack of adequate training and experience leads to complications and patient death.
My recommendation: If your surgeon tells you he/she can use a robot to perform your surgery, ask him/her why is robotic assistance needed, how many hours of training have they had with the new technology, and how many of the same surgeries they are recommending for you they have successfully performed using robotic assistance.