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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Reblog] How hospitals recoup the cost of buying robotic surgery systems (& questions to ask surgeon before consenting to robotic surgery)

A laparoscopic robotic surgery machine. Patien...

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The blogger known only as the Skeptical Scalpel (self-described as a surgeon for 40 years and a surgical department chairman and residency program director for over 23 of those years) continueshis thread of posts raising questions about the proliferation of robotic surgery.

The latest is entitled “Study: Robotic surgery financials explained.” It’s his take on a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists.  Excerpts:

The headline, “Robotic Hysterectomy Cuts Blood Loss in Obese,” is certainly catchy. Let’s look deeper. 

The lead author said, “The robotic hysterectomy does … offer lower rates of conversion to laparotomy but does cause higher facility and total charges, as well as higher reimbursement rates.” The mean total hospital charge for robotic hysterectomy was $44,700 versus $25,557, a statistically significant difference. The average charge for the robotic instruments was $8,322 compared to $3,762 for standard laparoscopy equipment, also a significant difference. In response to a question about why there was such a disparity, the lead author said: “The charges are likely to recoup the cost of the robot purchase. We have multiple robots … four at our main institution and several others at other sites.”

The reimbursement actually received for robotic hysterectomy was $19,000 and for standard laparoscopic, a mere $$8,000.

I congratulate the authors for their candor [though no doubt inadvertent] in sharing the financial data and the reasons why robotic surgery is more costly. I am gobsmacked* at the differential in charges and reimbursement for the two types of hysterectomy and that the secret would be so openly shared.

I guess someone has to help the hospital “recoup the cost of the robot purchase.” But I wonder why third party payers are shelling out almost two-and-a half times more money for a procedure that has not been proven more effective than standard laparoscopic surgery?

And you wonder why health care costs are skyrocketing?

Comments

Walter Lipman posted on February 13, 2012 at 9:25 am

Using this “pay as you use” logic, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see one set of charges for your bed being located in the hospital’s parking lot versus another and higher set of charges for your bed being located in a room inside the hospital.

Reply

Michelle Luthringshausen, MD posted on February 21, 2012 at 8:54 am

As a surgeon, I am fascinated by this shallow analysis of cost and complete disregard for what is best for the patient. An open hysterectomy has a complication rate of 11%, highest in obese patients. A robotic hysterectomy done by an experienced surgeon in an obese patient has a complication rate of 3%. Complications are expensive for hospitals, health systems and especially patients. According to the American College of Surgeons NSQIP data, one complication’s DIRECT costs are around $12,000.
My second comment is that “charges” are only relevant in the uninsured patient, which will rarely be recouped anyway. The “cost” is what the insurance company and patients actually pay or reimburse, which is a contracted price based on the procedure done, NOT the way it was done, in an insured patient. In most cases, the hospital and surgeon get paid the same fee whether the robot was used or not…..

Related article

A 27 February 2012 article at HealthNewsReview.org summarizes a recent Chicago Tribune article on the evidence (sorely lacking) that robotic surgery allows for quicker healing and less pain.

Excerpts

Despite a flood of scientific papers associated with the da Vinci, there is a dearth of randomized, controlled studies showing patients do best if procedures are performed with the da Vinci. Federal oversight of medical devices such as the da Vinci is light. There have been voluntary recalls — more than a dozen since 2005 — involving problems with software and surgical instruments. Lawsuits have helped raise concerns that some surgeons are using the devices before the doctors are adequately trained.

Here are some questions patients should ask their surgeon when considering a robot-assisted procedure:

•When did you do your first robot-assisted procedure? How were you trained? How many robot-assisted cases have you done? How often do you do them? How many robot-assisted cases have you done of my procedure?

•Are you more comfortable doing this type of procedure laparoscopically, robot-assisted or the traditional open approach? What are the pros and cons of each?

•What happens if the robot malfunctions during surgery or you have to convert to open surgery? How many open cases of my procedure have you performed? How often do you do them?

•What kind of training on the da Vinci do the nurses and other surgeons in the operating room get? How experienced are they? How experienced are they in converting to an open procedure mid-surgery?

•Will you be mentoring another surgeon during my procedure? Will he or she be doing any of it? If so, how many cases has he or she performed?

 

Related articles

“When hospitals buy robots they also use them as a marketing tool in direct-to-consumer marketing. That startedwith the drug companies and it worked well. It’s very effective,” said Dr. Hugh Lavery, a urologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York who authored the study.”

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February 14, 2012 - Posted by | health care | , , , , ,

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