The Pipeline

Three big robotic surgery trends to watch this year

Vik Srinivasan, Service Line Strategy Advisor

Last week’s Daily Briefing reported that the United States’ Food and Drug Administration just approved the first new model of the da Vinci robot in five years. 

With this announcement, hospitals will likely face increased pressure from physicians to upgrade their robots to the latest model. As a result, we thought this would be a good opportunity to review the near-term outlook for robotic surgery. 

Expanding use of the robot in general surgery

The robot is widely used within urology and gynecology, with general surgery seen as the next frontier for expansion on the platform. However, cost looms as a barrier to widespread adoption. General surgeons continue to debate whether the technique is superior to conventional laparoscopy given that studies show minimal benefit in length-of-stay reduction over the non-robotic laparoscopic alternative.

Nonetheless, hospitals continue to offer robotic cholecystectomy in order to appease both patients and surgeons. Hospitals often ask us about the cost-effectiveness of single-site robotic cholecystectomy, but the reality is that many surgeons perform even the simplest cholecystectomies on the robot. They argue that this allows them to build their skills on the platform so that they can perform more complex robotic cases.

This extensive use of the robot comes at the expense of hospital margins. Each hospital must weigh whether the potential for complex use justifies the conversion of simple laparoscopic procedures.  As a general trend, programs nationwide have begun to move cautiously on expansion of single-site cholecystectomy and robotic colorectal surgery. However, it remains to be seen whether this will be the consensus approach.

Emerging differentiation opportunity with single-site hysterectomy

Intuitive has conducted a controlled release of its single-site hysterectomy technology over the past year. This careful release of the technology likely reflects the fact that the instrumentation is a work in progress and not yet suited for widespread adoption.

Once the technology improves, it has the potential to become a market differentiator. Hospitals should continue to monitor the public release of the technology, as it is likely to have a significant effect on their hysterectomy volumes.

Changing technology landscape with introduction of new da Vinci model

With the release of Intuitive’s latest da Vinci model, hospitals will likely face pressure from surgeons to upgrade their robotic platforms. Intuitive claims its latest model is better equipped to handle complex cases and offers improved maneuverability. However, given comparatively low volumes of these complex cases, this costly upgrade will likely prove inappropriate for most programs.

The release of this new robotic platform also provides Intuitive with an opportunity to redirect the conversation about robotic surgery, which centered on controversy over the platform’s safety and efficacy last year.

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Hospitals must prepare for conversations with surgeons insisting on the latest upgrade. As these concerns increase, contact your Dedicated Advisor to schedule a call with our experts, who can help you navigate the challenges unique to your organization.