While the debate on the added value of robotics and robot-assisted systems in healthcare has been in full swing for a while now, the demand for robotic surgery throughout Europe’s medical institutions continues to grow exponentially, particularly in specialties like visceral surgery and orthopaedics. But what exactly are the benefits and downsides involved with the use of surgical robots? And how can a hospital keep up with the technological progress from a financial perspective when after all, a common robotic surgical system can easily cost up to two million euros? For the purchasing manager, such an investment has to pay off in the long term, while the surgeon would prefer to work with an improved successor model after just a few years.
It is undisputed that the millimetre precision of a well-maintained robotic system is a reliable constant 24/7. The surgeon always retains control of the robotic arm and its high-precision instrument tips. The flexible robotic arms increase the surgeon’s freedom of movement and support him especially during surgeries that require tiny and extremely accurate incisions or lengthy procedures. The improved ergonomics for the surgeon is a value that cannot be underestimated while patients can expect a better surgical outcome and lower operation risks.
“Our experience with robotic-assisted surgery has shown that patients need less painkillers after a surgery. In addition, the recovery process is shorter and patients resume mobility more quickly.”
In addition to the many medical benefits, the purchase of a surgical robot is both a matter of prestige and competitive advantage that can help to retain highly qualified young professionals at the hospital. Many physicians are convinced that patients will soon increasingly demand the option “robotic surgery” in addition to the popular option “chief surgeon surgery”. This development is in line with the results of research conducted by PwC which showed that 73% of citizens surveyed in Europe, the Middle East and Africa would accept undergoing minor robotic surgery. Besides surgical robots, this also applies to nursing robots in old people’s homes or exoskeletons that make it easier for nursing staff to move bedridden patients, for example. And last but not least, robots can be a tremendous help in a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic where healthcare professionals’ infection risks can be reduced with robots taking over tasks such as disinfection, automated pharmaceutical preparation or even food delivery. In short: Robotics is a striking symbol of progress.
Apparent downsides of the new technologies are the high acquisition costs, the increased time required for sterilization and OR preparation, and the additional OR team training that is necessary. Robot sceptics might criticise the lack of studies on whether robot-assisted surgery actually leads to better results compared to surgeries performed by humans. But at least in the case of knee protheses, the higher precision seems to ensure that up to 95 percent of patients are satisfied with the outcome compared to 80 percent from non-assisted surgeries. And the development is progressing rapidly: A Swiss start-up recently created a sensation with a high-precision laser therapy.
To overcome the biggest hurdle which consists in the high acquisition and maintenance costs, medical technology service providers such as CHG-MERIDIAN have developed innovative financing concepts. After all, the robot itself is usually not the end of the story. Besides the consumables, additional special peripherals are required for example to disinfect the robot arms or to ensure the extraction of smoke gases that are produced to create a pneumoperitoneum in abdominal operations or when using electrocautery.
Technology and financing service providers bundle all the necessary services into an "all-round carefree" package. With this TCO analysis, the total costs can be broken down to a transparent, plannable monthly rate. Buyers can thus very quickly calculate when or if a robotic system would pay off economically. Since the robots are remarketed after a certain period of use, the cost block is reduced substantially compared to a long-term investment until the end of the robot life cycle. Due to the extraordinarily fast innovation cycles in the field of robotics, long-term use is often not practical. Significant economic advantages can be achieved through resale proceeds by early replacement of the old device. The resulting regular replacement of the surgical robots so that hospitals can keep up with medical technology progress without having to strain themselves financially. In contrast to classic funding and financing methods like loans, flexible financing and technology management solutions enhance both quality and cost efficiency and help avoiding resource shortfalls. The ongoing need for investment makes innovative lifecycle concepts and a TCO analysis indispensable when it comes to increasing the performance of hospitals in a long-term and improving patient care.
“The machinery would usually cost in excess of £2 million and would have taken several years to raise the funds (…) As of now, the robot has been in use for nearly 6 months and a substantial number of patients have seen the benefits of it. CHG-MERIDIAN's help has been greatly appreciated and we could not have achieved the success that we have without their assistance.”
With a comprehensive network of service providers, suppliers and expert advisors, independent technology service providers as CHG-MERIDIAN support healthcare institutions with the planning phase, a customized financing concept, the tendering process for manufacturers and contractors, as well as the project management and training programmes for medical staff. The future of medical technology is already here – healthcare institutions just often lack the financial means to correspond to ever important state-of-the-art developments in robotic systems. With individual life cycle management concepts, hospitals can take advantage of new robotic technologies today and benefit from them in the long term.