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Editorial: Cost-effectiveness of robotic surgery; what do we know?

The introduction of the daVinci robotic surgical system (Intuitive Surgical, Sunnyvale, CA, USA) has led to a continuous discussion about the cost-effectiveness of its use. The capital costs and extra costs per procedure for robot-assisted procedures are well known, but there are limited data on healthcare consumption in the longer term. In this issue of BJUI, a retrospective study investigated the NHS-registered, relevant care activities up to three years after surgery comparing robot-assisted, conventional laparoscopic, and open surgical approaches to radical prostatectomy and partial nephrectomy [1].

The robotic system is particularly useful in difficult to perform laparoscopic surgeries, which are easier to perform with the daVinci system due to improved three-dimensional vision, ergonomics, and additional dexterity of the instruments. Because the use of the robotic system is more costly, to justify its use the outcomes for patients should be improved. Therefore, more detailed information about the clinical and oncological outcomes, as well as the incidence of complications after surgery with the daVinci system, is needed.

Lower rates of positive surgical margins for robot-assisted radical prostatectomy (RARP) vs open and laparoscopic RP have been reported [2]. There also is evidence of an earlier recovery of functional outcomes, such as continence. RARP is associated with improved surgical margin status compared with open RP and reduced use of androgen-deprivation therapy and radiotherapy after RP, which has important implications for quality of life and costs. Ramsay et al. [3] reported that RARP could be cost-effective in the UK with a minimum volume of 100–150 cases per year per robotic system.

Centralisation of complex procedures will not only result in better outcomes, but also facilitate optimal economical usage of expensive medical devices. Furthermore, the skills learned to perform the RARP procedure can be used during other procedures, such as robot-assisted partial nephrectomy (RAPN) and radical cystectomy (RARC). The recent report by Buse et al. [4] confirms that RAPN is cost-effective in preventing perioperative complications in a high-volume centre, when compared with the open procedure. Minimally invasive techniques for complex procedures, such as a RC, take more time to perform, but result in less blood loss. A systematic review by Novara et al. [5] showed a longer operation time for RARC, but fewer transfusions and fewer complications compared with open surgery. However, there is no solid evidence about the cost-effectiveness of this technique to date. The RAZOR trial (randomised trial of open versus robot assisted radical cystectomy, DOI: 10.1111/bju.12699) is likely to provide some answers about differences in cost, complications, and quality of life when the results of the study become available later this year.

Additionally, the robotic system has been shown to shorten the learning curve of complex laparoscopic procedures in simulation models [6]. Recently, a newly structured curriculum to teach RARP has been validated by the European Association of Urology-Robotic Urology Section [7]. The effect of the shorter learning curve on the cost of the procedures has not yet been well studied for cost-effectiveness. However, due to the shorter learning curves, patients have lower risks of complications, which from the patients’ perspective is more important than any increased costs.

The study reported in this issue [1]; however, does not include the ‘out of pocket’ expenses of patients, it does not report on the differences in patient and tumour characteristics, and outcomes such as complications and oncological safety. These issues are all challenges to be addressed in a thorough prospective (randomised) trial on the cost-effectiveness of the use of robot-assisted surgery, including quality-of-life measurements and complications of the surgical procedures. In the Netherlands the RACE trial (comparative effectiveness study open RC vs RARC, started in 2015 and the results are expected in 2018–2019.

Carl J. Wijburg
Department of Urology, Robotic Surgery , Rijnstate HospitalArnhem, The Netherlands





2 HuJC, Gandaglia G, Karakiewicz PI et al. Comparative effectiveness of robot-assisted versus open radical prostatectomy. Eur Urol 2014; 66: 66672



4 Buse S, Hach CE, Klumpen P et al. Cost-effectiveness of robot-assisted partial nephrectomy for the prevention of perioperative complications. World J Urol 2015; [Epub ahead of print]. DOI:10.1007/s00345-015-1742-x



6 Moore LJ, Wilson MR, Waine E, Masters RS, McGrath JS, Vine SJRobotic technology results in faster and more robust surgical skill acquisition than traditional laparoscopy. J Robot Surg 2015; 9: 6773



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