Robotic surgeries to get cheaper [video special]

A patient has to usually shell out around Rs 50,000 more for a robot-assisted surgery

By Dinsa Sachan
Published: Monday 16 January 2012

For long, robotic arms have been used by medical practitioners across the world as their helping hand for performing surgeries.

“Robot-assisted surgeries have a hundred per cent success rate. Also, post-operative complications are relatively few and the patient can be discharged in a couple of days after the surgery,” says Naresh Trehan, cardiac surgeon and managing director, Medanta Hospital on the sidelines of the Global Robotics 2012, a three-day multispecialty robotic surgery conference which began on January 13 in New Delhi.

“Robotic surgeries have minimal complications because robotic arms have a greater range of motion (360 degrees), and they can reach to greater depths where human hands and larger instruments cannot reach,” says Gagan Gautam, head of Medanta Hospital’s robotic surgery programme. But these surgeries have been slow to pick up in India as it is expensive.

Typically, a patient has to shell out around Rs 50,000 more for a robot-assisted surgery. Now efforts are being made to make such surgeries within the reach of the not so affluent. Also, currently robot-assisted surgery is done in only few specialities, primarily urology, thoracic and gynaecology.

One such step has been taken by Vattikuti Foundation, a Michigan based non-profit, through its Vattikuti Foundation Robotic Surgery Institute. It has been instrumental in setting up partnerships with various hospitals in India to train professionals in robotic surgery. “The cost of a robotic surgery in the US is $78, 000 and through our efforts we have been able to bring it down to $5000 on an average in India,” says Mahendra Bhandari, head of Vattikuti Foundation’s robotic program. We will soon open up a new robotic training center in Chennai, adds Bhandari. “By 2016, we expect 30,000 surgeries to be done annually with the new technology,” he says.

In a robot-assisted surgery, as the robotic arms get busy on the operating table, the main surgeon (who’s trained in robotic surgery) monitors the robot from a console stationed nearby. The console is equipped with high definition 3D view of the surgical procedure. Simultaneously, an assistant surgeon, who is standing next to the patient, keeps a watch on a giant 2D screen that displays the surgery.

On how robotic surgery can be made cheaper and available to the wider society, Gautam, says, “It’s essential for hospitals which have robots to perform as many surgeries as possible. This helps the hospital earn back the investment made in the technology. Once the investment is earned, the cost goes down.” Medanta Hospital is currently performing 200-plus robot-assisted surgeries per year.

Currently, India has about 10-13 robots used for surgical purposes. These are developed by the US firm Intuitive Surgical. Primary destinations for robot-assisted surgery in India include All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Medanta Hospital, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Apollo group of Hospitals, Manipal Hospital and Asian Heart Institute. Gautam adds that while robotic surgery is the way to go, the picture is not all that rosy. “Some insurance companies do not cover robotic surgery, so this could dissuade people from opting for it.” He notes there is a need to establish quality training institutes in order to churn out competent surgeons who can conduct robot-assisted surgeries.

Also Watch: Interview with Naresh Trehan on advantages of robotic surgery

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