Hospitals criticised for misuse of robotics-assisted 'da Vinci' surgery

TAIPEI, Taiwan -National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) officials criticised dubious uses of robotics-assisted surgeries within the nation during the hospital's presentation of its latest results in dual console surgical robots surgery on Wednesday.

According to local media, there has been speculation that domestic hospitals are misusing robotic da Vinci Surgical System machines in order to expand the market for self-funded treatments.

Liang Jin-tung, vice superintendent of the NTUH Department of Surgery, urged doctors to "have a sense of morality" and medical institutions to exercise self-restraint.

Hospitals in 'Arms Race'

To undergo "da Vinci" surgery, patients in Taiwan have to pay expenses of between NT$200,000 and NT$250,000, in addition to funds supported by the national health insurance.

Currently, there are a total of 28 da Vinci robotic arms in the country, making Taiwan the most densely da Vinci system-equipped nation in Asia, stated local media.

Liang said hospitals have been purchasing the robotics-assisted systems as if they were weapons in an arms race. "This has indeed led to much criticism."

NTUH Set Guidelines

However, "humans cannot compete with machines," said Liang, explaining that he can help more patients with the help of the robotic system, since he had injured his palms after performing 2,000 laparoscopic surgeries in the traditional way.

The surgeon said the fees for performing da Vinci Surgery are expensive, so the ethics committee at NTUH has set specific guidelines for doctors to follow.

The guidelines require physicians to first consider the difficulty of surgery, before deciding which method to use. For example, traditional surgery is recommended for patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer, since surgical procedures in the abdominal area are relatively easy, said Liang.

However, Liang suggests da Vinci surgery for rectal cancer patients, since a more delicate method helps to perform surgery deep within the pelvic cavity.

The surgeon said physicians should not "aggressively" promote da Vinci surgery to patients when the traditional method would do.