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Catherine Mohr on the economic logic of robotic surgery

Say you're going in for a radical prostatectomy, and you're asked to choose between a traditional procedure or one performed with the help of a surgical robot named Da Vinci. Pick the second option and you'll endure less post-operative pain, get home earlier and get back to work within two weeks rather than six. Seems like a clear winner, right? Despite costing $3,000 more per procedure, it (apparently) is - for you, your hospital and insurance provider.

Stanford surgery instructor Catherine Mohr, MD, explains on Freakonomics today why hospitals are (perhaps unexpectedly) eager to develop their robotic programs:

Keeping a post-surgical patient who had an uncomplicated surgery in a bed in a hospital while they recover from that surgery costs that hospital $1,500 per day on average; patients who have [minimally invasive] surgery go home two-and-a-half days earlier on average than patients having the same surgery through an open incision. The savings from being able to discharge patients earlier not only wipes out the premium cost for the robot instruments and maintenance, but actually brings the hospital out about $500 per procedure ahead.

The second big saving comes from a reduction in complications, which can cost a hospital up to three times what it will be reimbursed for a procedure, and associated blood transfusions, Mohr says.

Mohr, who's director of medical research at Intuitive Surgical, gave a recent TED talk on surgery's past, present and robotic future.

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