I needed mitral valve repair surgery, and I was a good candidate for robotic surgery: relatively young, good health (other than the valve), not obese (fat gets in the way). Instead of sawing my sternum and spreading my chest open, the surgeon (who has a lot of experience in both robotic and open heart surgery) was able to go in through my right side and leave a 3-inch scar and three puncture wounds. I was in the hospital Tuesday morning, and out Friday afternoon. I'm grateful to have had access to this technology. The benefits of robotic surgery compared to open heart surgery are clear (at least in my case).
But when a hospital has a large fixed cost to acquire technology, it is all too tempting to spread that cost out over a greater number of surgeries. The benefits are not nearly so clear in surgeries that don't require bone-breaking or bone-sawing. If someday I need gall bladder surgery, or if my spouse needs a hysterectomy, I would have a strong preference to avoid robotic surgery unless a skilled surgeon can make a compelling argument that the specifics of our case are a good fit for robotic assistance. (And believe me, I read as much of the medical literature as I could in making the decision: when one of the surgical steps is, basically, "shut down the heart," you want to know as much as you can. Open heart surgery for valve repair is a well-understood, well-practiced technique, but for me the decision to use the robot was about the reduced shock to the body, shorter recovery time, and reduced scarring.)