Gastrointestinal Surgery| Volume 279, P330-337, November 2022

Robot-Assisted General Surgery Procedures at the Veterans Health Administration: A Comparison of Surgical Techniques



      The use of the robot in general surgery has exploded in the last decade. The Veterans Health Administration presents a unique opportunity to study differences between surgical approaches due to the ability to control for health system and insurance variability. This study compares clinical outcomes between robot-assisted and laparoscopic or open techniques for three general surgery procedures.


      A retrospective observational study using the Veterans Affair Surgical Quality Improvement Program database. Operative time, length of stay, and complications were compared for cholecystectomy (robot-assisted versus laparoscopic), ventral, and inguinal hernia repair (robot-assisted versus laparoscopic or open) from 2015 to 2019.


      More than 80,000 cases were analyzed (21,652 cholecystectomy, 9214 ventral hernia repairs, and 51,324 inguinal hernia repairs). Median operative time was longer for all robot-assisted approaches as compared to laparoscopic or open techniques with the largest difference seen between open and robot-assisted primary ventral hernia repair (unadjusted difference of 93 min, P < 0.001). Median length of stay was between 1 and 4 d and significantly for robot-assisted ventral hernia repairs (versus open, P < 0.01; versus lap for recurrent hernia, P < 0.05). Specific postoperative outcomes of interest were overall low with few differences between techniques.


      While the robotic platform was associated with longer operative time, these findings must be interpreted in the context of a learning curve and indications for use (i.e., use of the robot for technically challenging cases). Our findings suggest that at the Veterans Health Administration, the robot is as safe a platform for common general surgery procedures as traditional approaches. Future studies should focus on patient-centered outcomes including pain and cosmesis.


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