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The aching surgeon: a survey of physical discomfort and symptoms following open, laparoscopic, and robotic surgery

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There is increasing interest in understanding the toll that operating takes on a surgeon’s body. The effect of robotic surgery on surgeon discomfort has not been studied. We sought to document the discomfort of robotic surgery compared with open and laparoscopic surgery and to investigate the factors that affect the risk of physical symptoms. Nineteen-thousand eight-hundred and sixty-eight surgeons from all specialties trained in the use of robots were sent a 26-question online survey and 1,407 responded. One-thousand two-hundred and fifteen surgeons who practiced all three approaches were used in the analysis. Eight-hundred and seventy-one surgeons had physical discomfort or symptoms attributable to operating. Of those with symptoms, 55.4% attributed most of the symptoms to laparoscopic surgery, 36.3% to open surgery, and 8.3% to robotic surgery. A higher case load was predictive of increased symptoms for open and laparoscopic surgery, but not for robotic surgery. Robotic surgery was less likely than open or laparoscopic surgery to lead to neck, back, hip, knee, ankle, foot, and shoulder pain and less likely than laparoscopic surgery to lead to elbow and wrist pain. Robotic surgery was more likely than either open or laparoscopic surgery to lead to eye pain, and more likely than open surgery to lead to finger pain. Nearly a third (30.3%) of surgeons admit to giving consideration to their own discomfort when choosing an operative modality. Robotic surgery has promise in reducing the risk of physical discomfort for the operator. This is important as more surgeons consider their own health when choosing a surgical modality.

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Conflict of interest

Dr Wren does technical consulting and speaking for Intiutive Surgical, the maker of the Da Vinci Robotic Surgical System. Drs Plerhoples and Hernandez-Boussard have no conflicts of interest or financial ties to disclose.

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Correspondence to Timothy A. Plerhoples.

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Plerhoples, T.A., Hernandez-Boussard, T. & Wren, S.M. The aching surgeon: a survey of physical discomfort and symptoms following open, laparoscopic, and robotic surgery. J Robotic Surg 6, 65–72 (2012).

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