Medicare vs. opioids. Medical simulations. Skipping insurance.
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Are robots intuitive?
When I was growing up, the da Vinci Surgical System was starting to roll out in hospitals. I told my parents I wanted to be a robotic surgeon when I grew up (because it kind of looked like a video game). I became a healthcare analyst which is…basically the same thing…right?
Since obtaining FDA approval, Intuitive Surgical (maker of the da Vinci Robot) has been on a tear and was virtually the only game in town. The company crossed $3B in revenue last year and has more than 4,200 units worldwide.
Studies show mixed results on whether robotic surgeries are worth the cost, including in laparoscopic surgeries which are the da Vinci Robot’s specialty. Stanford studied laparoscopic kidney tumor removals, and found 46.3% of patients had a 4+ hour surgery using a robot, while only 28.5% of patients operated on traditionally were in surgery for that long. Patient outcomes were comparable. But the robot surgeries were also on average $2,700 more expensive.
Studies covering other types of laparoscopic robotic surgeries also showed outcomes were similar, if not slightly worse, for a higher price tag.yeayea
Healthcare as a whole is puzzling because (as these studies suggest) new technologies often lead to more expensive services, while the opposite tends to be true in other industries.
Hospitals market these robots pretty hard. What patient wouldn’t believe that a robot-assisted surgery is going to be better? It’s a great way to make patients think you’re at the cutting edge (no pun intended). And considering the machines costs ~$2M, you’re going to need to convince many patients of that to recoup the investment.
As a side note, I did find it funny that the marketing language between the different hospitals was so similar, bullet points and everything.
Transformers, Surgical Robots In Disguise
We’re seeing a wave of innovation in robotic surgery, including developments in software, materials, sensors, micro-instrumentation, and more. The push for minimally-invasive outpatient surgeries has increased demand for these devices.
Auris Surgical recently received FDA approval and came out of stealth with $500M in funding, Johnson & Johnson acquired Orthotaxy for orthopedic surgery and is working with Google on Verb Surgical to create a “digital surgery platform” which has a prototype out. Meanwhile, several more robotic surgery companies have raised in the last few months (which you can see with this search).
Will the next wave of robots also lead to more expensive surgeries? Hopefully more competition will start to unlock efficiencies and savings, though as is usually the case in healthcare it’s unclear how cost savings will get to patients.
For clients, we took a look at companies that are entering the hospital including surgery robots and other tools for the operating room.