At least seven Tucson area hospitals have expensive da Vinci robots for surgery, but a new study released Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association says the robots may not be worth the money.
In a study conducted by researchers at Columbia University, surgical hysterectomies with the robot showed no benefit over the less expensive laparoscopic procedure.
The robots, made by Intuitive Surgical Inc., cost upward of $1.5 million and are often used in hospital marketing campaigns. Hospitals say assisted robot surgeries are more precise than human hands.
In Tucson, hospitals often bring demo da Vinci robots to local shopping malls for public viewing.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the robots for surgery in 2005 and since the percentage of hysterectomies performed with them has risen from .5 percent to nearly 10 percent.
But the Columbia researchers say that the benefits of the expensive robots may not be worth the money.
“Proponents of robotic surgery have argued that robotic technology allows women who otherwise would undergo laparotomy to have a minimally invasive procedure.
"However, there is little to support these claims, and because both laparoscopic and robotic-assisted hysterectomy are associated with low complication rates, it is unclear what benefits robotically-assisted hysterectomy offers," the study's authors write.
In a time of spiraling health costs, an accompanying JAMA editorial says it's worthwhile to question innovations like the robot
"...when the innovation being advertised is of questionable advantage, direct-to-consumer promotion may only fuel unnecessary utilization," they write.
"In the absence of additional research or decreases in price, the path taken by the medical and payer community should be one of caution. At a minimum, manufacturers might begin by voluntarily restricting their promotional activities."