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Robotic vs. Non-Robotic Joint Replacement: What’s Important

By: Kit Kiefer

There’s a lot of buzz regarding robotic joint replacements … but is it warranted? Are robotic joint replacements really better than their non-robot-aided counterparts?

First, a disclaimer: Stevens Point Orthopedics doesn’t use robots in its surgeries. Instead, it uses some of the most skilled and experienced surgeons in the state. If SPO truly believed that robot-assisted surgery would result in better outcomes for our patients, we’d use robots.

But we don’t — so you have a good idea of where we stand on the issue.

With that in mind, here are some of the things you need to be aware of regarding robotic joint replacements. They may also give you some hints as to why we prefer to keep doing things our way.

There isn’t enough data on robot-assisted joint replacements to definitively state they’re better or worse than non-robotic replacements

Before the medical profession can state that something is or isn’t true, there needs to be a lot of supporting data collected and analyzed and re-analyzed to build a case. We’re just not there yet with robotic joint replacements.

It may take five years or more to collect enough data to be able to make some definitive statements on robot-assisted joint replacements – and by that time the state of the art for all joint replacements may well have shifted, and the data collected in the past may be irrelevant.

The other thing to consider in evaluating robotic joint replacements is what constitutes “better.” Is it faster surgery, faster recovery, lower cost, a lower fail rate, a longer life for the replaced parts – or some combination of the above? And if one method of surgery is superior in some of these categories but inferior in others, how do you determine what is truly the better method?

These aren’t easy questions to answer, and there probably aren’t going to be cut-and-dried answers. And as it usually is with medical issues, every case is different.

The cost of robot-aided surgery is generally higher than non-robot-aided surgery

It makes sense that if you buy a large piece of machinery to help you do something you did previously without that machinery, someone has to pay for the machine.

In the case of robot-aided surgery, it’s generally the patient.

A 2019 study found that robot-aided knee replacements cost 26% more than non-robot-aided surgeries.

While the expectation is that those costs will decrease over time as the machine is gradually paid for, those cost declines could be offset by new software or new machines. While a good surgeon can be trained on new processes, a machine that can only do one thing one way may have to be replaced.

Obsolescence isn’t cheap.

There’s no evidence of better outcomes

Surgeons are very proficient at joint replacements. The rate of negative outcomes is extremely low.

The rate of negative outcomes for robot-assisted surgery is comparably low as well – but it’s not markedly better.

Again, it’s fairly early in the game to be measuring the long-term effectiveness of modern robot-aided joint replacements. But there’s currently no compelling evidence to suggest that overall, robots outperform traditional surgeons in this important measure of “better.”

There’s some evidence of additional complications

While a scholarly analysis of multiple studies on robot-assisted hip replacements found they can provide slightly more accurate positioning of components, it also found evidence of additional complications, like higher incidences of pain at pin-insertion sites, higher dislocation rates, and higher rates of nerve injury.

Again, complications are relatively rare in hip replacements, but these potential issues need to be considered when evaluating options for your joint replacement.

It’s more than just the surgery

A joint replacement is more than just a surgical procedure – it’s a journey that takes you from pain and limited mobility to less pain and the ability to get back to doing the things you love.

It’s not a short journey, and it’s not always easy. That’s why it’s so important to select a facility that sees you as a unique and special person, and has the resources on-site to support and guide you through this journey.

Stevens Point Orthopedics is the only facility anywhere to offer the Joint Journey program. We have a joint coordinator and a dedicated joint physical therapist on staff and on site and here for you, to answer your questions, talk through what to expect, keep you on-track during your recovery, and celebrate your success.

Ultimately the difference between a robot-assisted surgery and a non-robot-aided surgery is a couple of fractions of percentage points and perhaps some additional dollars to be paid by the insurance company.

However, the difference in a joint-replacement experience between Stevens Point Orthopedics and anywhere else is profound and real. Being treated and valued as a unique, special person is the real difference-maker.

And in the end, it’s why we feel Stevens Point Orthopedics is your best choice for joint-replacement surgery.

Contact us today to learn more.

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