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The learning curve of robot-assisted laparoscopic aortofemoral bypass grafting for aortoiliac occlusive disease.

BACKGROUND: Since the end of the 20th century, robot-assisted surgery has been finding its role among other minimally invasive methods. Vascular surgery seems to be another specialty in which the benefits of this technology can be expected. Our objective was to assess the learning curve of robot-assisted laparoscopic aortofemoral bypass grafting for aortoiliac occlusive disease in a group of 40 patients.

METHODS: Between May 2006 and January 2010, 40 patients (32 men, 8 women), who were a median age of 58 years (range, 48-75 years), underwent 40 robot-assisted laparoscopic aortofemoral reconstructions. Learning curve estimations were used for anastomosis, clamping, and operative time assessment. For conversion rate evaluation, the cumulative summation (CUSUM) technique was used. Statistical analysis comparing the first and second half of our group, and unilateral-to-bilateral reconstructions were performed.

RESULTS: We created 21 aortofemoral and 19 aortobifemoral bypasses. The median proximal anastomosis time was 23 minutes (range, 18-50 minutes), median clamping time was 60 minutes (range, 40-95 minutes), and median operative time was 295 minutes (range, 180-475 minutes). The 30-day mortality rate was 0%, and no graft or wound infection or cardiopulmonary or hepatorenal complications were observed. During the median 18-month follow-up (range, 2-48 months), three early graft occlusions occurred (7%). After reoperations, the secondary patency of reconstructions was 100%. Data showed a typical short learning curve for robotic proximal anastomosis creation with anastomosis and clamping time reduction. The operative time learning curve was flat, confirming the procedure's complexity. There were two conversions to open surgery. CUSUM analysis confirmed that an acceptable conversion rate set at 5% was achieved. Comparing the first and second half of our group, all recorded times showed statistically significant improvements. Differences between unilateral and bilateral reconstructions were not statistically significant.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that the success rate of robot-assisted laparoscopic aortofemoral bypass grafting is high and the complication rate is low. Anastomosis creation, one of the main difficulties of laparoscopic bypass grafting, has been overcome using the robotic operating system and its learning curve is short. However, the endoscopic dissection of the aortoiliac segment remains the most difficult part of the operation and should be addressed in further development of the method to reduce the operative times. Long-term results and potential benefits of this minimally invasive method have to be verified by randomized controlled clinical trials.

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