Robot surgeons 'slower and more expensive' than humans
Humans still make better surgeons than robots, carrying out operations in a shorter time yet making no more mistakes, a new study suggests.
Robotic surgery has increased substantially in Britain's NHS since the first machines were installed a decade ago, and it is commonly used for prostate, bladder and kidney removal, as well as for cutting out tumours.
It was hoped that robots would be more accurate, dexterous and quicker than humans, but a new study has shown that they do not improve outcomes for patients, and operations take longer.
Human surgeons are quicker than robots and have the same outcomes.
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in the United States reviewed nearly 25,000 operations across 416 American hospitals which were carried out between 2006 and 2012.
They found that just 28pc of kidney removal patients who had keyhole surgery performed by a human surgeon were under the knife for more than four hours, compared to 46pc of those who were operated on robotically.
Robotic surgery was also around €2,200 more expensive per patient.
Dr Benjamin Chung, an associate professor of urology at Stanford University, said: "We found that, 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."
There are now around 60 'da Vinci' machines in British hospitals offering assistive robotic surgery.
Costing around £1m (€1.12m) each, the robotic machines offer enhanced 3D vision and specialised instruments, such as tiny cameras and ultra-small tools.
The researchers said that robots were undoubtedly helpful in tricky operations, which require a high degree of delicate manoeuvring, or extensive internal stitching.
But for less technically challenging surgery, such as the removal of a whole kidney, the new study shows that human surgeons were likely to be better.
Although the authors said it was possible that the operating time would decrease and that the cost differences between the two procedures would narrow over time, for now, the results showed that robot-assisted surgery was not always the right choice.
"There is a certain incentive to use very expensive equipment," added Dr Chung.
"But it is also important to be cognisant as to how our healthcare money is being spent.
"Although robotic surgery has some advantages, are those advantages relevant enough in this type of case to justify an increase in cost?"
The new research was published in the 'Journal of The American Medical Association'. (© Daily Telegraph, London)