Here Come the Robots: The Future of Rural Hospitals

The rise of robotic surgery in rural hospitals is helping administrators attract new surgeons and compete in the marketplace.

Jill S. Ties, MD, FACS
Jill S. Ties, MD, FACS

Today’s session—PS106: Robots in Rural Operating Rooms: Not Science Fiction Any Longer!—outlines the benefits of robotic surgery in this setting and describes how this technology can strengthen the bottom line while providing enhanced care to patients closer to home.

Panelists will discuss training both rural surgical residents and established surgeons in robotic surgery (also called robot-assisted surgery) and outline strategies for developing a surgical robotics program, including financial considerations.

Jill S. Ties, MD, FACS, session co-moderator, noted the challenges involved in bringing this technology to smaller hospitals, “How do we make it profitable and how do we make it sustainable?” 

One way robotic surgery can save costs, she noted, is by alleviating challenges stemming from workforce shortages. “When I’m on call on a weekend, it’s me and a single nurse, single tech, and single anesthesia provider. Robotic technology gives me the ability to be very consistent regarding how I do my retraction and how I perform my operation. It allows me to minimize variables,” said Dr. Ties. “In this age, post-COVID-19, we just don’t have a lot of extra care available.”

A robotic surgery program in a rural center can also function as a recruiting mechanism for new surgical talent, which is another way to mitigate workforce-related issues, according to Dr. Ties, particularly for surgeons who trained on a robotic device and are hesitant to give up those skillsets.

In addition to attracting new surgeons to rural communities, robotic surgery devices can help keep current staff members healthy. “This technology has some really good ergonomic benefits. You don’t have as much bending and twisting and back pain and neck strain and so forth that have traditionally been present in surgery,” she explained. “Keeping the surgeons that you have healthy is extremely important in the rural environment.”

Robotic surgery in rural centers can also grow revenue. “I think as robotic technology becomes more common, if we aren’t able to compete in rural environments, it may result in fewer cases overall,” Dr. Ties said. “We know that surgery revenue drives procedural revenue. As our surgeons become busier, it helps our hospitals do better, remain open, and help patients at a time when rural hospitals are really struggling and closing.”

For those who are unable to attend the lecture at 9:45 am in Room 20BC, the session will be made available for on-demand viewing within an hour after the live presentation for both virtual and in-person registrants.

Watch Clinical Congress Sessions On Demand

Virtual registration is still an option for Clinical Congress 2022. An on-demand library of recorded sessions from San Diego is available until May 1, 2023.