Dr. Manny: The problem with robotic surgery? No competition

A recent report from the Washington Post analyzes whether advanced technological robots in the operating room offer any real benefits to prostate cancer patients and surgeons in the U.S. While citing a study published in The Lancet, which found similar long-term outcomes in patients who underwent robotic surgery versus open surgery, the report concludes that the da Vinci Surgical System created by Intuitive Surgical adds little to no value to the long-term experience.

Despite the study finding minimal differences between the two surgical options, I still believe the da Vinci Surgical System is the better option for surgeons and prostate cancer patients. Patients experience less blood loss during surgery and doctors are offered a better analysis of the patient’s anatomy. Overall, patients also experience a shorter and faster recovery period during their hospital stay.

However, the criticism I have is that we’ve been seeing the same technology for 16 years now, and while it’s offering limited benefits in the prostate cancer world, it’s doing nothing for other medical specialties. In fact, in the world of gynecological care, this technology has inadvertently created some complications for our patients, which, to me, seems like a sign that we’re headed in the wrong direction.

I believe that there is a strong future for robotic surgery in the field of medicine, but we need more options. Currently, Intuitive Surgical is the only company manufacturing da Vinci Surgical Systems which it sells for upwards of $2 million. With no other competitor creating a similar or better product, Intuitive Surgical is free to continue offering these pricey machines, which hospitals will be forced into purchasing in order stay current and offer what consumers see as the most cutting-edge care.

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That hefty price tag brings with it billing add-ons for patients who trust their doctors to be acting in their best interest. It also limits the amount of patient and surgeon access available, as not many general hospitals are equipped with such high-tech machinery. The Washington Post report and The Lancet study should serve as a wake-up call to the medical technology industry. As doctors, we need more options for our patients, and more specialized tools to offer the best care possible. Without any competition, Intuitive Surgical will remain the top choice for surgeons and patients regardless of whether there’s any real advantage to using its product. Is that really the best we can do?