A meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine comparing robot-assisted abdominopelvic surgery with laparoscopy, open surgery or incidences where both were performed and found that robotic platforms demonstrated no obvious benefit.

The analysis, which includes 50 studies covering 4,898 patients, found that the majority showed no difference in intraoperative complications, conversion rates or long-term outcomes between robotic surgery and other formats.

Of the 39 that reported incidence of complications, four (10%) showed fewer complications with robot-assisted surgery.

Overall, robot-assisted surgery demonstrated longer operative duration than laparoscopy, but no obvious difference was seen in comparison to open surgery.

The researchers concluded that there is “currently no clear advantage” of robotic surgery over the alternative options, but said that with “refinement, competition and cost reduction, future versions have the potential to improve clinical outcomes without the existing disadvantages”.

The researchers accounted for differences in surgeon experience with robotic platforms and found that conclusions were similar regardless.

Results of the study will likely come as a blow to developers and advocates of robotic surgical technology, even as the market continues to grow rapidly. The global surgical robotics market was valued at $2.3bn in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 21.6% from 2021 to 2028.

University of Texas general surgery resident Naila Dhanani, who co-authored the study, said: “The biggest challenge to putting our findings into practice will be overcoming the personal beliefs many clinicians have, not just with the robot but with components of medicine that lack the support of evidence.

“While we believe that robotics has a clear future and role in medicine it almost certainly will not be the current iteration of the robotic platform. As we look toward the future, safe and careful adoption with an honest discussion of risk and benefit is needed.”