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da Vinci Ad May Violate University Code of Conduct, State Law

Feb 19, 2014

A recent advertisement for the da Vinci surgical robot system has caused controversy and led to a number of questions about hospital-industry relationships. The ad, which appeared in The New York Times Magazine, showed the surgery team at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System with the headline “We believe in da Vinci surgery because our patients benefit.” Former Beth Israel Deaconess hospital administrator Paul Levy has drawn a considerable amount of attention to the ad, pointing out a number of potential violations.

"While I have become accustomed to the many da Vinci ads, I was struck by the idea that a major university health system had apparently made a business judgment that it was worthwhile to advertise outside of its territory, in a national ad in the New York Times," Levy said to Mass Device.

After doing some research, Levy found out through the University’s website that his suspicions were correct. “The ad violated the University's code of conduct and administrative procedures, and likely state law," he said. He also looked through the university campus’ administrative manual, which states that the university is prohibited from this type of advertising: “In general, the University cannot permit its image to be used in any commercial announcement, in a commercial or artistic production, including the World Wide Web or in any other context where endorsement of a product, organization, person, or cause is explicitly or implicitly conveyed," the manual states.

In a blog post titled “Time to Fire Somebody,” Levy points out that the University has violated its code to exercise ‘custodial responsibility for University property and resources,’ by using its name in a national ad run by a private party. In another post, he notes that some of the people wearing white coats in the ad are not doctors. In fact, one appears to not even be a medical professional and is instead the administrative director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Robotic Surgery Training Center.

Levy has since received an email from the University’s executive director of university relations, stating that the ad had been suspended. He also wrote that “We will use this opportunity to conduct a methodical assessment of policies, guidelines, procedures and practices, and where corrective changes are required we will take the appropriate action." according to Mass Device.

The da Vinci surgical robot is used in minimally invasive surgeries. The systems, which can cost up to $2.2 million each, have been questioned about their safety and efficacy. Last year, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that there is not much evidence to support the use of robot surgery for hysterectomies compared to less costly options. One study, published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, found that deaths and injuries caused by the robots are underreported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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