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AI Medicine Robotics

Study Finds Robot Surgeons Are Actually Slower and More Expensive (theregister.co.uk) 44

"Robot-assisted surgery costs more time and money than traditional methods, but isn't more effective, for certain types of operations," reports the Register, in an article shared by schwit1: In a study of almost 24,000 laparoscopic surgeries just published in The Journal of American Medicine, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed data from 416 hospitals around the U.S. from 2003 to 2015. Robotic assistance provides 3D-visualization, a broader range of motion for instruments, and better ergonomics for physicians, according to the study. While it has advantages in scenarios where a high-degree of precision is required or where improved outcomes have been demonstrated (like radical prostatectomy), it appears to be a waste of resources for the two operations examined... But the patient outcomes were more or less the same.

A thematically-related economic study presented by the National Bureau for Economic Research on Monday suggests that while AI and machine learning have received substantial investment over the past five years and have been widely touted as a transformative technologies, "there is little sign that they have yet affected aggregate productivity statistics... The simplest possibility is that the optimism about the potential technologies is misplaced and unfounded," muse Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock (MIT), Chad Syverson (University of Chicago) in the paper.

But instead the paper's author suggest that fully realizing the benefits of AI "will require effort and entrepreneurship to develop the needed complements, and adaptability at the individual, organizational, and societal levels to undertake the associated restructuring."

Study Finds Robot Surgeons Are Actually Slower and More Expensive

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  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdflat.cELIOTom minus poet> on Saturday November 11, 2017 @04:55PM (#55532357) Journal

    There was a time when what were once called horseless carriages was slower than using a horse,.

    Give it time.

    • Re:So? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Saturday November 11, 2017 @05:03PM (#55532387) Homepage Journal

      The study says even less than that. It's more like some horseless carriages were slower than some horses, on an odd-numbered Wednesday if there's an R in the month and the wind's blowing from the east.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There was a time when what were once called horseless carriages was slower than using a horse,.

      Give it time.

      There was a time when only simple minimum wage jobs were being threatened by robotics and automation.

      Now, those making six figure salaries are being threatened. I doubt that "time" will ever come.

      • There was a time when only simple minimum wage jobs were being threatened by robotics and automation.

        I would have thought that in some areas, the opposite happened: we had brilliant computer algebra systems and automated theorem proving systems long before people seriously started considering self-driving cars to replace badly-paid drivers.

    • And I don't think the authors say we should never use robots and stop developing robots. But it is probably worth questioning using these robots for the surgeries in question, and whether it's valuable for hospitals to buy these robots. It's almost certainly worth making sure insurance companies and medicare don't pay hospitals extra for using these robots in these procedures at this time.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 11, 2017 @05:00PM (#55532377)

    Wow, these people completely missed the point of these procedure techniques. They are not intended to make surgery more efficient or cheaper. They are intended to make them SAFER. They have a much lower impact on the human body and produce much less shock. They have shorter recovery time. They produce drastically less scarring.

    Amazing how wildly out-of-touch technologists can be that they consider speed and cost to be more important than the health and well-being of the patient.

    • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Saturday November 11, 2017 @05:38PM (#55532503) Homepage Journal

      Nobody did that here. They looked at 3 cases: Open surgery, laparoscopic surgery, and robot assisted laparoscopic surgery. They found that laparoscopic beat open in patient outcomes (so it's a good thing). They further found that adding the robot did nothing to improve outcomes but did cost more (a bad thing) and take longer (also bad and potentially a safety risk).

      An exception, called out in the summary, is radical prostatectomy where the robot did improve outcomes.

      • I looked at bikes, cars and aircraft for travel. Driving beat biking in that it was way faster. Flying added little, it is way more expensive and it took longer (you need to get to the airfield first). One exception is long distance travel, where flying did improve outcomes.

        The short version is: hammers are useful tools, but not for all jobs.
      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        They found that laparoscopic beat open in patient outcomes (so it's a good thing). They further found that adding the robot did nothing to improve outcomes but did cost more (a bad thing) and take longer (also bad and potentially a safety risk).

        Unfortunately when you make statistics like this it's never the same doctor operating on the same patient. For example, it's quite possible that younger doctors are prevalent when it comes to robot-assisted surgery while older and more experienced doctors who had to learn to do it on their own continue to do so and that the actual difference is due to differences in experience not technique. It's also possible that those who do robot-assisted surgery can do it with less training than the unassisted ones wit

    • by Anonymous Coward

      they consider speed and cost to be more important than the health and well-being of the patient.

      RTFM:

      "But the patient outcomes were more or less the same."

      Amazing

      is that you can't even read

    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      And how does safer appear, other than a different patient outcome (which did not happen)?

    • In many ways we seem to but everything of value into dollars and cents. The value of money is based on how much there is of it and how badly do you want it.
      There are some things in life are quite valuable however it may be overlooked or very common. We have as a culture have gotten too fixated about money and the economy. I am no hippie or communist I understand the need for money and wish to make more of it, however it isn’t the only thing in life. Technology doesn’t always save money, but

      • by laird ( 2705 )

        How is "But the patient outcomes were more or less the same" a statement that all we care about is dollars and cents. If the more expensive equipment didn't yield better medical outcomes, it's just wasting the patient's money (or the insurance coverage). The US already has bloated healthcare costs, because people like the latest, greatest stuff. But if the medical outcomes are the same, we're all better off doing things at lower cost, because that leaves more resources for other things of greater medical va

  • If you factor in how much it costs to raise and train a human surgeon then the maths come out a lot different. And yes, there's a tremendous upfront cost in creating and training an "AI" surgeon but that is ultimately spread across all the units developed, even completely new models will generally build off of previous generations. The cost of training a human surgeon is per-unit and will only decrease when we get wet wired to accept pluggable skills/memories and/or vat grown humans "born" mature.

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Saturday November 11, 2017 @05:39PM (#55532507) Homepage

    In other words, human doctors have made absolutely sure that the surgeries they design are easily done by the surgeon doing the planning, rather than saying "Hey, I'm not sure if I can avoid killing you, but what the hell, let's give it a shot."

    No freaking da.

  • Sample size (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Cynical Critic ( 1294574 ) on Saturday November 11, 2017 @06:34PM (#55532703)
    I hope that I'm not the only one puzzled with the number of surgical procedures being evaluated here. A single procedure done carried out using 3 different methods is hardly going to produce enough data to make any kind of assessment as how the different methods compare. Sure, you can talk about how they compare for this particular procedure, but even at that we're talking about footnote-level importance here.

    Hell, I'd even go far as to argue that the real story here is how something as insignificant as this was given this much attention and how badly it's very specific conclusions were over-extrapolated to make a headline as eye-catching as possible.
    • Re:Sample size (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rhsanborn ( 773855 ) on Saturday November 11, 2017 @09:14PM (#55533247)
      That's actually the point. We aren't trying to determine if robots are good or bad in general. It's irrelevant. The researchers are trying to determine if robot assisted surgery is better than non-robot assisted surgery for specific surgeries. This is how doctors determine the best course of action to use in a specific situation, and whether insurance companies will cover extra costs for those particular actions. It looks like 2 particular surgeries show no benefit of robots and that doctors probably shouldn't generally use those robots for those procedures, and insurance companies shouldn't pay anything extra for the use of robots in those procedures. We should hope they're working on studying the efficacy of robotic assistance in more surgical procedures.
      • by UPZ ( 947916 )

        That's actually the point. We aren't trying to determine if robots are good or bad in general. It's irrelevant. The researchers are trying to determine if robot assisted surgery is better than non-robot assisted surgery for specific surgeries. This is how doctors determine the best course of action to use in a specific situation, and whether insurance companies will cover extra costs for those particular actions. It looks like 2 particular surgeries show no benefit of robots and that doctors probably shouldn't generally use those robots for those procedures, and insurance companies shouldn't pay anything extra for the use of robots in those procedures. We should hope they're working on studying the efficacy of robotic assistance in more surgical procedures.

        Agreed, it's only about whether TODAY robot assisted surgeries are better than surgeries without a robot? Medical studies tend to ask a very specific question, and it's not broadly applicable (ie to other surgeries or robots in general).

  • I always thought in a perfect world that we would be merged with robots, working side by side, making anything we do; perfect.. I personally would want a human beside the robot in case it gets hacked or breaks. But alas, $$$ Money rules $$$!!
  • and she tells me that she and all her coworkers hate robotic surgery cases. They take much longer which increases the risk of anesthesia related complications, especially for older patients.

Leveraging always beats prototyping.

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