Convenience, not outcomes may drive robot-assisted surgeries


The use of robotically assisted surgical devices for benign and malignant tumors is here to stay, but the decision to perform robot-assisted surgery should be driven by clinical outcomes, not convenience, physicians say.

“The problem in minimally invasive surgery, especially in cancer surgery, is that the concept has been flip-flopped,” said Hooman Noorchashm, MD, PhD, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon turned patient advocate. “The main purpose of surgery should be removal of diseased tissue or repair of damaged tissue with adequate safety. The size of the incision on that triage scheme is secondary.”

In 2013, Dr. Noorchashm’s wife, Amy Reed, MD, an anesthesiologist, had a hysterectomy for treatment of severe uterine fibroids. The surgery was performed with a laparoscopic power morcellator, which led to the dissemination of cells from a previously undetected abdominal lesion. She was later diagnosed with stage 4 leiomyosarcoma and died in May 2017.

Dr. Noorchashm said the problem with robotic surgery isn’t the technology itself or how it’s used, but why it’s used in the first place. “Not only was there an extreme level of laxity with respect to the malignant potential of fibroids, but also that the size of the incision supersedes the safety of the procedure.”

The ultimate goal of oncologic surgery is to achieve an en bloc resection with clean surgical margins and removal of the tumor intact, Dr. Noorchashm said. The only scientific way of showing the benefits or therapeutic equivalence of new technology is through noninferiority comparison trials.

Robotic surgery inching toward $14 billion in revenue by 2028

Although robotic surgical technology has been in use since the 1990s, the technology is still considered to be its infancy. The first Food and Drug Administration–approved robotics platform, the da Vinci Surgical System (Intuitive Surgical) was approved by the FDA in 2000. And, now, with its patent expiring in 2022, competitors will be developing and launching new products for abdominal and colorectal surgery, partial knee replacements, cardiovascular procedures, head and neck surgery, and spinal procedures.

Robotic surgery is a rapidly expanding area with new product launches announced daily. In August 2021, the market research firm Grand View Research, reported the surgical robot marketplace is projected to reach $14 billion by 2028, up from $3.6 billion this year.

“This new era of robotic-assisted surgery attracts both surgeons and patients. Robotic surgery has reshaped our surgeries over the last 2 decades, and robots are now used in almost in every surgical field. Still, as surgeons, we continue to look – with great interest – to new robotic companies that may be able to provide better robots in a more cost-effective manner,” wrote urologists Ahmad Almujalhem and Koon Ho Rha in a review published in the journal BJUI Compass.

However, the authors wrote that, although the market is competitive, cost remains an issue, as are competing interests. In addition, many companies are creating replicas of existing technologies instead of focusing on new designs and new technology. “Although the da Vinci system propelled many robots to market, there has been no significant improvement in the console,” they added.

The technology is attractive to both surgeons and patients. “Surgeons are attracted to newer technologies, better vision, and easier learning curves. Patients are also attracted to robotic surgery, as this technology is considered state of the art and is associated with reduced pain and scar size,” the authors wrote.


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