Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Robot surgeons - outcomes are worse with them than without

It seems that some "Insanely Great" ideas aren't so hot when you measure actual outcomes:
Robot-assisted surgery costs more time and money than traditional methods, but isn't more effective, for certain types of operations. 
The researchers, led by Stanford visiting scholar Gab Jeong, weighed outcomes for both robot-assisted and traditional laparoscopic kidney removal and rectal resection. With kidney surgery, they found that where surgeons used a robot, the procedure time dragged on more than four hours in 46.3 per cent of cases, compared to just 28.5 per cent of cases where the surgeon worked without a mechanical assistant.
There are likely many issues in play here: immature technology, a long and bureaucratic FDA approval process, and high levels of training needed for surgeons and nurses.  The technology at least will evolve, but this points out the difficulty in introducing "game changing" technologies in mission-critical fields.

More importantly, it shows the difficulty in targeting the types of problems where robots can improve outcomes.  This is probably a lot harder than it seems, and with the expense of the FDA approval a lot riskier, too.

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