Robotic surgery is driven by patient demand

Robotic surgery, which mostly used for prostate surgery, is one of the newer trends that hospitals are embracing.

But are the costs, which can reach into the millions of dollars, worth the expense?

That’s a question discussed in a recent New York Times piece. There’s no question that robotic surgery costs more — almost $2,000 more per patient. And indeed, some patients are more comfortable post-op. But there is little data that long-term outcomes, like prostate cancer control, are actually improved.

And a large study of Medicare patients “indicated that surgery with a robot might lead to fewer in-hospital complications, but that it might also lead to more impotence and incontinence.”

So despite these questionable results, why are more hospitals clamoring for robotic surgery? Partially due to its use as a marketing tool, but mainly because patients want it.

It’s come to a point where “patients interview you,” according to a urologist. “‘They say: ‘Do you use the robot? O.K., well, thank you.’ And they leave.”

Health reformers often chastise doctors and hospitals for their role in the proliferation of the latest and most expensive medical technology. Although that’s partially true, patient demand also drives that incentive.