CHENNAI: It may be the quantum shift in surgical precision that all surgeons are gearing up for. But as far as insurance providers are concerned, robotic surgery is like a lavish cousin whom they’d rather not take out to dinner.
Four years after Apollo Hospitals first forayed into robot-assisted surgery, insurance providers are still not willing to extend cover for this option, “It’s a real pity that insurance providers aren’t willing to even look at giving a premium bracket of insurance packages where this can be included as an option,” said Dr Venkat Sripathi, Senior Consultant Paediatric Urologist at Apollo Hospitals.
While presenting a few children who had recovered from debilitating conditions faster owing to robotic surgery, Sripathi mentioned that it was a matter of simple economics. “For most companies, there is no question of paying for robotic surgery because open surgery or laparoscopic surgery is almost half the cost,” he added. When Apollo first began operating with robotics four years ago, one of the things that they were sure about was, the price would plummet if more centres began using the technology. In fact, most of their centres have paid off the machine cost in half the time through the volume of surgeries done - urology, gastrointestinal and Neuro surgery top the applications presently.
Today, 26 hospitals across the country, including three in the public sector, have robotic surgery divisions. However, the price burden is still quite high because of access and insurance issues. “This is the future and I believe that companies have to look at extending support to robotic surgery because of the advantages involved. It’s faster, more precise and offers quicker healing time. Just as how minimally invasive surgery is now the gold standard, this will also be on top soon. More hospitals should invest in such things and give patients the best care possible,” said Preetha Reddy, Executive Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals Group.
When contacted, an official with Star Health said that the number of persons interested in robotic options was still woefully low and that was why extending cover for it did not make sense. “It may take a few years. Even in places like the US, it took 4-5 providers to begin extending partial coverage,” she added.