Robotic spinal fixation is associated with increased screw placement accuracy and similar operative blood loss, length of stay, and operative duration. These findings support the safety and cost-effectiveness of robotic spinal surgery across the spectrum of robotic systems and screw types 1).
In addition to demonstrating excellent pedicle screw accuracy, early studies have explored the impact of robot-assisted spine surgery on reducing radiation time, length of hospital stay, operative time, and perioperative complications in comparison to conventional freehand technique. The Mazor X Stealth Edition was introduced in 2018. This robotic system integrates Medtronic’s Stealth navigation technology into the Mazor X platform, which was introduced in 2016. It is unclear what the impact of these advancements have made on clinical outcomes.
In a multicenter study, both robot systems achieved excellent screw accuracy and low robot time per screw. However, using Stealth led to significantly less fluoroscopic radiation time, lower robot abandonment rates, and reduced blood transfusion rates than Mazor X. Other factors including length of stay, and 90-day complications were similar 2)
Ha Y. Robot-Assisted Spine Surgery: A Solution for Aging Spine Surgeons. Neurospine. 2018 Sep;15(3):187-188. doi: 10.14245/ns.18edi.003. Epub 2018 Sep 11. PubMed PMID: 30196675.
In three cadavers 12 pedicle screws were implanted in thoraco-lumbar segments with the robotic surgery assistant. 3D-fluoroscopy was performed for preoperative referencing, planning and identification of postoperative screw position. The radiation exposure of fluoroscopy and a CT scanner was compared, measuring the Computed Tomography Dose Index (CTDIw ).
Pedicle screw positioning was graded according to the Gertzbein-Robbins classification: Eleven of 12 pedicle screws showed optimal transpedicular position (Grade 1), one was positioned less than 2 mm outside (Grade 2). No major deviations were observed. Referencing with 3D-fluoroscopy resulted in a CTDIw reduction of 84% in the cervical- and 33% in the lumbar spine.
Robot-guided PS placement, using 3D-fluoroscopy for referencing, is a reliable tool for minimally invasive PS implantation; radiation exposure can be reduced 3).
Menger et al., investigated the cost effectiveness of adding robotic technology in spine surgery to an active neurosurgical practice.
The time of operative procedures, infection rates, revision rates, length of stay, and possible conversion of open to minimally invasive spine surgery (MIS) secondary to robotic image guidance technology were calculated using a combination of institution-specific and national data points. This cost matrix was subsequently applied to 1 year of elective clinical case volume at an academic practice with regard to payor mix, procedural mix, and procedural revenue.
A total of 1,985 elective cases were analyzed over a 1-year period; of these, 557 thoracolumbar cases (28%) were analyzed. Fifty-eight (10.4%) were MIS fusions. Independent review determined an additional ~10% cases (50) to be candidates for MIS fusion. Furthermore, 41.4% patients had governmental insurance, while 58.6% had commercial insurance. The weighted average diagnosis-related group reimbursement for thoracolumbar procedures for the hospital system was calculated to be $25,057 for Medicare and $42,096 for commercial insurance. Time savings averaged 3.4 minutes per 1-level MIS procedure with robotic technology, resulting in annual savings of $5,713. Improved pedicle screw accuracy secondary to robotic technology would have resulted in 9.47 revisions being avoided, with cost savings of $314,661. Under appropriate payor mix components, robotic technology would have converted 31 Medicare and 18 commercial patients from open to MIS. This would have resulted in 140 fewer total hospital admission days ($251,860) and avoided 2.3 infections ($36,312). Robotic surgery resulted in immediate conservative savings estimate of $608,546 during a 1-year period at an academic center performing 557 elective thoracolumbar instrumentation cases.
Application of robotic spine surgery is cost-effective, resulting in lesser revision surgery, lower infection rates, reduced length of stay, and shorter operative time. Further research is warranted, evaluating the financial impact of robotic spine surgery 4).
Several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and cohort studies involving robotic-assisted (RA) and free-hand with fluoroscopy-guided (FH) and published before January 2017 were searched for using the Cochrane Library, Ovid, Web of Science, PubMed, and EMBASE databases. A total of 55 papers were selected. After the full-text assessment, 45 clinical trials were excluded. The final meta-analysis included 10 articles.
The accuracy of pedicle screw placement within the RA group was significantly greater than the accuracy within the FH group (odds ratio 95%, “perfect accuracy” confidence interval: 1.38-2.07, P < .01; odds ratio 95% “clinically acceptable” Confidence Interval: 1.17-2.08, P < .01).
There are significant differences in accuracy between RA surgery and FH surgery. It was demonstrated that the RA technique is superior to the conventional method in terms of the accuracy of pedicle screw placement 5).
In 2013 a study evaluated the outcomes of robotic-assisted screw placement in a consecutive series of 102 patients.
Data were recorded from technical notes and operative records created immediately following each surgery case, in which the robotic system was used to guide pedicle screw placement. All cases were performed at the same hospital by a single surgeon. The majority of patients had spinal deformity and/or previous spine surgery. Each planned screw placement was classified as: (1) successful/accurately placed screw using robotic guidance; (2) screw malpositioned using robot; (3) use of robot aborted and screw placed manually; (4) planned screw not placed as screw deemed non essential for construct stability. Data from each case were reviewed by two independent researchers to indentify the diagnosis, number of attempted robotic guided screw placements and the outcome of the attempted placement as well as complications or reasons for non-placement.
Robotic-guided screw placement was successfully used in 95 out of 102 patients. In those 95 patients, 949 screws (87.5 % of 1,085 planned screws) were successfully implanted. Eleven screws (1.0 %) placed using the robotic system were misplaced (all presumably due to “skiving” of the drill bit or trocar off the side of the facet). Robotic guidance was aborted and 110 screws (10.1 %) were manually placed, generally due to poor registration and/or technical trajectory issues. Fifteen screws (1.4 %) were not placed after intraoperative determination that the screw was not essential for construct stability. The robot was not used as planned in seven patients, one due to severe deformity, one due to very high body mass index, one due to extremely poor bone quality, one due to registration difficulty caused by previously placed loosened hardware, one due to difficulty with platform mounting and two due to device technical issues.
Of the 960 screws that were implanted using the robot, 949 (98.9 %) were successfully and accurately implanted and 11 (1.1 %) were malpositioned, despite the fact that the majority of patients had significant spinal deformities and/or previous spine surgeries. “Tool skiving” was thought to be the inciting issue with the misplaced screws. Intraoperative anteroposterior and oblique fluoroscopic imaging for registration is critical and was the limiting issue in four of the seven aborted cases 6).
Robotic pedicle screw placement learning curve.